<
>

PC efficiency, squad depth stand out as India beat Pakistan 3-1 in Asian Champions Trophy

Harmanpreet Singh scored a brace for India, both from penalty corners. MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images

As India took on Pakistan in a league match at the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka on Friday, a broadcast graphic stated that the last 56 matches between the two teams had produced 26 wins for India and 25 for Pakistan. As with any sport, it suggested there could be a close contest in the offing.

India coach Graham Reid, in his pre-match interview, spoke about the need to keep improving "as individuals and as a team" and to keep it "professional and business-like". His Pakistan counterpart, Siegfried Aikman, who was just in his second game since taking over after his fruitful stint with Japan, spoke about the need to "play free". "If you have fear or pressure, it will impact your performance," he warned.

As India ran out 3-1 winners, it would appear both coaches' words proved prophetic. Pakistan were tentative to begin with, and Junaid Manzoor's deflection in the third quarter only served to reduce India's 2-0 lead at that point. Harmanpreet Singh converted both penalty corner (PC) opportunities, and Akashdeep Singh dinked in at close range to score the other Indian goal.

Clinical up top

What ought to have pleased Reid the most was that India's forward line looked sharp in the face of a Pakistan team that was looking to defend deep and in good numbers pretty much from the off. India could have had more goals but for another great performance from Pakistan keeper Mazhar Abbas. Dilpreet Singh, Shamsher Singh, Shilanand Lakra, Raj Kumar Pal, Akashdeep and Lalit Upadhyay, all had shots at various points. However, Abbas stood firm to deny them all.

It was telling that Akashdeep's field goal came at a time when a low ball was played across the face of goal - with the Pakistan goalkeeper having come away to attack his right post, leaving the far side unprotected.

India's improved PC efficiency

India's first two matches in Dhaka have been marked by some indifferent planning and execution of their short corners.Against South Korea, they ran up against an inspired Kim Jae Hyeon in goal while against Bangladesh there were occasions when either one of Harmanpreet or Varun Kumar were missing when India earned PCs.

On Friday, Harmanpreet was on hand for all three short corners that India won. His first conversion was exceptional for how long he held his shape before fizzing the ball low to the left of Abbas, through the post person's legs, while the second was all about power. His decision to leave the third to Varun was a good touch too, although the younger drag-flicker saw his shot beat the keeper but get saved off the man at the post.

India's impressive depth

What the three matches in this tournament have emphasised again is how much depth India have in their squad. It suits Reid's coaching style perfectly -- he has always stressed on the importance of having a wide pool of quality players to pick from. His ruthlessness with picking teams has had some illustrious names retire after the Tokyo Olympics, knowing their time with the national team might never come again.

On Friday, players like Lakra, Nilam Xess, Pal all stood out for the maturity with which they played. India were composed when playing out from the back, and lorded over most of the midfield skirmishes. Akashdeep, Jarmanpreet Singh, Gurinder Singh are relatively more experienced, but missed out on that ticket to Tokyo and their intensity here makes it apparent they are eager to make up for lost time.

Better discipline required

One area where Reid will want improvement though is on-field discipline, something that also cost India when leading Korea 2-0. In that game, India conceded a green card in every quarter and Korea pulled two goals back when Lalit went off with a yellow card in addition to those suspensions.

On Friday, Nilam marred an otherwise confident performance in deep defence with two green cards, in the second and fourth quarters respectively. Akashdeep set the tone with one in just the second minute of play. Pakistan were sluggish and barely made Krishan Pathak or Suraj Karkera work inside the goal, but a more clinical team would have punished India for such lapses.