As a memorable 2022 draws to end, ESPN India picks ten images that tell the story of the most extraordinary Indian sports moments witnessed over the year. In this sixth part, we write about Savita Punia's terrific performance in the Commonwealth Games bronze medal match against New Zealand.
Before getting to the moment itself, though, it's pertinent to remember the events preceding it: At the Tokyo Olympics, India did a tremendous job by qualifying to the semifinals and narrowly missed a bronze medal. Then there was the World Cup, where despite good performances, India couldn't score enough goals to make it past the crossover stage. They finished a disappointing ninth.
Fast forward to the Commonwealth Games, where India faced Australia in the semifinals and forced a shootout after the match finished 1-1. Savita Punia, the captain, leader and legend of this team, saved Ambrosia Malone's first attempt but it was not counted. Reason: the eight-second stopwatch for the hit didn't go off. Malone took her shot again and scored. Eventually, Australia won the shootout 3-0.
If not for the stopwatch fiasco, maybe India could've been in the final or maybe it would've ended in a defeat. But the whole affair left a bitter aftertaste and reduced Savita to tears.
It's tough to step on the turf again just 24 hours after such a crushing loss and compete in a medal match. India had to play against New Zealand for the bronze; a team made of fighters who compete hard till the final hooter.
India took the lead, thanks to Salima Tete and maintained it till the final few seconds of the match. A poor error during a penalty corner resulted in a penalty stroke to New Zealand. Olivia Merry made no mistake from the spot to level the match 1-1.
Right, here we go, another shootout. No matter how hard you tried, it was difficult to block out the events which took place in the semifinal. However, for Savita, it was not about forgetting the past, but an opportunity to do her best at what she loves doing.
Three terrific saves and one hit forced away -- New Zealand tried everything but just couldn't get past the Indian goalkeeper. For the final save, she went to her left and blocked Olivia Shannon's effort with her stick as India won the shootout 2-1 to clinch bronze. After the save, and before her teammates mobbed her, Savita looked at the umpire to ensure she did it cleanly: Maybe it was only in those few seconds that she doubted herself, but this time there was no misfortune.
The image of her teammates running towards her in joy -- it told a story. A familiar story of Savita's tryst with the Indian team. Her saves helped India win numerous games. Only this time the story ended with a medal.