Riding on Nikkin Thimmaiah’s hat-trick, Asian Champions India handed over the world number one Kookaburras their first defeat of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2015. The World Champions went down 4-2 in their fifth and final round-robin match on Saturday. Deniel Beale and Matt Gohdes scored for Australia, while VR Raghunath opened the scoring for India.
Kookaburras Captain Mark Knowles played his 250th match for Australia but his hope for positive results in landmark match were done by Indian early goals in the first and third quarters. Kookaburras, who were level, 1-1, at the first break through Daniel Beale’s equaliser shortly before quarter time. Having fallen two goals down in the third quarter, Matt Gohdes gave Australia hope of a comeback seven minutes from time but Nikkin’s hat-trick goal in the final minute completed the result in favor of India.
Australia’s men had already qualified for Sunday’s final against either New Zealand or Korea before the defeat, which marked their first loss at the annual Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament since May 2010, when they also went down to the Indians, 4-3. While India will play for Bronze Medal on Sunday.
Kookaburras coach Graham Reid said afterwards, “It was not a good performance today; we had a poor first half especially. We tried to treat it like a semi-final but they can be difficult games when there’s nothing riding on it and you’re already in the final. We talked before the match about holding the ball, keeping possession, but we just didn’t do that. We turned the ball over too many times. Once you let a team like India into the game it’s difficult to change the flow of it. I thought that in the second half we came back reasonably ok but there were too many easy goals. We’re not happy with our penalty corner attack. We’ll get out in the morning a do some more work on that.”
After going behind to Raghunath Vokkaliga’s powerful penalty corner in the first minute, Australia battled back through Beale’s cool finish inside the near post as he converted Trent Mitton’s pass inside to equalize with India.
Midway through the second period, Nikkin netted the first of a hat-trick of goals when India turned over possession inside the Kookaburras circle, the forward slotting home unopposed at the back post. And he doubled his tally and India’s advantage two minutes into the second half, sweeping home a cross from the right at close range.
Throughout the match, both Australian goalkeepers – Tristan Clemons and Leon Hayward – pulled off a number of saves to keep the score down while their Indian counterpart Sreejesh denied Nick Budgeon from a penalty corner.
Gohdes looked to have sparked a revival when he deflected home Budgeon’s penetrating pass at the back post but the Kookaburras could not find the equaliser despite Trent Mitton coming close twice late on.
With Australia throwing everything forward in the final minute Nikkin broke clear to round Leon Hayward at the top of the circle before firing high into the goal for 4-2 for India.
The Kookaburras will face the winner of New Zealand versus Korea in Sunday’s final. A draw between the two sides would see the Kiwis progress to the final against Australia. The final takes place at 22:40 AEST / 20:40 AWST on Sunday. While India play bronze medal match at 1540 IST.