Almost exactly a year ago, the Indian women's hockey team met Australia in a knockout match and put on a masterclass. This was at the Olympics, Gurjit Kaur scored from India's only penalty corner in the match and Savita Punia pulled off as many as nine saves to deny the Australians in a historic match. The Indian team qualified for the semifinals for the first time in the Olympics. It was indeed the match of the year.
Now India face Australia again in a knockout match. Both teams are meeting for the first time since their match in Tokyo. Once again, the stakes are high, this time it's a semifinal of the Commonwealth Games 2022. A win on Friday will confirm a medal and the winning team will earn a shot at the gold.
How have India and Australia fared since Tokyo Olympics?
A lot has changed since their last meeting, but a lot also didn't.
India have evolved as a team in the last one year under Janneke Schopman. They play attacking hockey, create more chances and there's no Rani Rampal to turn the match around with her sheer brilliance. This team debuted in the Pro League after the Olympics and finished third, ahead of Belgium, Spain, England and Germany.
But they also endured a disappointing World Cup just before the Commonwealth Games finishing ninth among 16 teams. They failed to make it to the quarterfinals, lost to Spain and New Zealand and drew against England and China.
Australia were the favourites to win against India in Tokyo. They once again start favourites to beat India in Birmingham and progress to the final. Unlike India, Australia did not play in the Pro League due to COVID-19 travel restrictions but that did affect their preparations for the World Cup.
This team, with very little match practice, came to the World Cup and won the bronze medal. They conceded just one goal and scored eight till they met Netherlands in the semifinals where they narrowly lost 1-0. They were again down 1-0 against Germany in the bronze medal playoff but produced a stunning comeback in the final quarter (Steph Kershaw scored twice) to win 2-1 and secured the bronze.
How have India performed at CWG so far?
The problem with India at the World Cup was that they played well, created opportunities to score but didn't convert the majority of chances. Penalty corner conversions was a huge problem, and the issue still persists at the CWG.
Consider these numbers:
India beat Ghana 5-0 in the opening match, earned 11 penalty corners and converted just 1.
India beat Wales 3-1 in their second match, earned 7 penalty corners and converted 3.
India lost against England 1-3 in their third match, earned 8 penalty corners and converted just 1.
India beat Canada 3-2 in their final group match, earned 3 penalty corners and scored 2 goals.
Gurjit Kaur's dragflicks are still not having an impact for India. She had 15 chances from the penalty corners and scored just 2 goals.
The third goal was a penalty stroke conversion against Ghana. In fact, she failed to convert any of her penalty corners against England and Canada - India's key opponents in the group. The goals from penalty corners seem to be coming via deflections from Vandana who scored three in similar fashion at the CWG 2022.
Also, it appears penalty corner defence has become a problem now. India conceded 6 goals in 4 matches so far. Five of those came from penalty corners. The first runners should've done better in terms of protecting goalkeeper Savita.
How have Australia performed at CWG so far?
Meanwhile Australia have conceded 0 goals and scored 16 in in 4 matches, having played against Kenya, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
They earned 35 penalty corners but converted 6. Their toughest opponent in the group stage was New Zealand and they dominated the match with 31 circle penetrations to New Zealand's 14 but could win it by 1-0 only.
They scored through Kaitlin Nobbs' penalty stroke, which has been quite the weapon. In Birmingham, Nobbs has scored 5 goals and 4 of those were penalty stroke conversions.
Who are the key players?
For India, it has to be Lalremsiami, albeit with a caveat. She was really impressive in the must-win match against Canada. She set up the second goal with her clever movement and scored the winner in the fourth quarter to ensure India make it to the semifinals.
However, she got injured late in the match as India were taking a penalty corner. She was in extreme pain and had to leave the field. It is yet unknown if she will play the semifinal and it will be a big blow if she misses the match against Australia.
For Australia, it is goalkeeper Jocelyn Bartram has been a rock in defence and her performance in the World Cup and the CWG made a big difference to the team. The team takes pride in keep cleansheets and India will have to work really hard to break the defence.
The semi-final will be 6 August at 12.45 AM IST