New Delhi: A scrappy India wasted chances galore as South Africa dished out a spirited performance to beat the hosts 3-1 in the third hockey Test on Thursday and keep alive their hopes in the five-match series.
With the Olympic qualifiers less than a month away, India coach Michael Nobbs yet again fielded a new look team in search of combinations, and the changes quite evidently reflected in the performance of the home team.
South Africa, on the other hand, seemed to be getting their acts together slowly and steadily after the 0-4 drubbing in the opening Test, as the performance of the visitors got better and better with every match.
The South Africans also utilised both the flanks to the hilt and played possession hockey. The tourists played one-touch hockey, thereby creating more open spaces during their attacks.
The Indians, on the other hand, were guilty of holding on to the ball for too long and failed to control the pace of the game.
South Africa put the Indian defence under pressure from the word go and their efforts bore fruit in the 21st minute when India conceded a penalty stroke, which was easily converted by Lloyd Madsen.
The visitors then doubled their lead just at the stroke of half time through Ian Haley, who tapped home from close range after receiving an open ball that recotiated of Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh`s gloves.
The Indians, however, managed to put up some fight after the breather and got numerous scoring chances but the just-recovered Yuvraj Walmiki and Dharamvir Singh failed to utilise the opportunities.
India, however, pulled one back in the 49th minute when Sandeep Singh converted a penalty corner out of the four they earned in the match.
But the joy was short-lived for the Indians as Craig Haley scored a field goal when he tapped home a cross from the left flank six minutes later to restore their two-goal lead.
Thereafter, India pressed hard for goals but the sting was lacking in their forward line as Yuvraj, Dharamvir and Rajpal Singh, who also returned from an injury lay-off, wasted numerous scoring opportunities. Veteran Vikram Pillay also looked out of sorts.
Sardara Singh once again was the star performer for India but he lacked support at the midfield. Debutant Kothajit Khadranghan also impressed in the left back position.
Expectedly, India coach Michael Nobbs was utterly disappointed with the performance of his boys and said the team had to pay the price for carrying a "lot of passengers" today.
"It was our last game to try out all players (before Olympic qualifiers). We had a number of passengers in the team. They were not just good enough and the better players were trying to make up for them (in the field)," Nobbs said.
"We lacked in executing our basic skills today, and South Africa punished us in the first half. In the second half we played better but we were not thorough enough. We missed a lot of scoring chances," he said.
"I think we put ourselves under pressure today rather than South Africa putting us under pressure."
Asked whether the performance of his team was dipping with each match, considering the fact that India won the first Test by a 4-0 margin and then eked out a 2-1 in the next before losing today, Nobbs said, "I was expecting this."
"We tried to give everyone an opportunity in the first 3 games just to see their talent and their eagerness to play for the country. In the last two games we will field much stronger teams than tonight."
Even though Yuvraj looked rusty in his comeback match after recovering from a hip injury, Nobbs seemed contended with the young striker`s performance.
"It was his (Yuvraj`s) first outing after quite sometime. I am pleased to see that he got through the game without any injuries. He did a lot of running which we wanted him to do."
Nobbs also praised debutant Kothajit, saying, "His was excellent considering it was his first game. He was under tremendous pressure all the time but he did a good job."
South Africa coach Gregg Clark, meanwhile, was delighted to see his side improving with every passing game.
"I am very happy with the performance. It was a very good performance, which was due for a long time," he said.
"We have very talented group of players but they haven`t played much hockey in between competitions. They have lot of potentials."
He was also happy to see his side not succumbing to India`s continuous pressure in the second half.
"India put a lot of pressure on us. We gave India too much open spaces in the second half. But I am really proud of my team for weathering that pressure."
The third Test between the two teams will be played tomorrow.