Black Sticks nearly undone
After the 2-all draw last night, the Indian women have a grand chance of upending the Black Sticks in Wellington.
And it is not amusing the Kiwis' Aussie coach Mark Hager one bit, not after winning the first three tests 7-2, 3-1 and 3-1.
Had Jenny Storey not stuck a stick out on the line to save from a penalty corner with time counting down, and India's Anupa Barla not missed an almost open goal from an acute angle, the Black Sticks would have been well and truly stuck.
The Indians, changed from their blue strip to white, were allowed to play and weave their velvet skills which were typically Indian as they threaded past the bigger Kiwis.
When Hager's players trooped into the dugout at halftime trailing 2-1, just after they had conceded two goals in the five minutes before the break, he audibly let rip. And his newbies weren't spared.
He had seen enough of poor skills, mis-trapping and players with heads looking turfside, taking the ball too far and being dispossessed. Judging by the bellows heard from on high, Hager's assistant and former Central coach Greg Nicol was on red alert too.
Hager was just plain disappointed, even after his women came from behind for the third test in a row to level in the 50th minute.
This wasn't just an exhibition in front of 1200 Manawatu folk, taking the black flag to the provinces. Now it seems it is the Black Sticks who are flagging. "No excuses," Hager said. "They've played just as many games as us.
"They have upped it and we've gone backwards, falling away a bit."
He wasn't just earmarking his new recruits. Some of his older stagers were guilty last night, and, when that happens, opposition teams will hurt you.
"Our basic skills are very poor at the moment and they are playing a much better tempo game than us.
"We had a few chances and were a little selfish in the circle. To be honest, we were lucky to come away with a draw."
It was all so different with just seven minutes gone when Sian Fremaux slammed the ball home after a 60-metre dash by the always urgent Anita Punt. The Kiwis were sharper than on Tuesday night but the Indian crosses spelled danger.
In the 30th minute, Indian vice-captain Vandanna Katariya ripped an unstoppable tomahawk reverse shot. Then, 20 seconds from halftime, after two penalty corners, captain Ritu Rani scrambled over.
Fast breaks were the Kiwis' best bet and their second goal came that way, too, after a Charlotte Harrison dash saw Fremaux get her second, just tugging it across the line. The 20-year-old Canterbury striker is one of the new breed.
Hager will be putting the hard word on his players before the final two tests in Wellington tomorrow and Sunday. That is their final chance before the tour to Argentina in February when players like Emily Naylor, Krystal Forgesson and Bridget Blackwood (foot stress fracture) should be back.
Manawatu umpire (and Standard reporter) Lucy Townend performed like an experienced whistler last night instead of one in only her second test, according to senior officials afterwards.
Scorers: India 2 (Vandanna Katariya, Ritu Rani) New Zealand 2 (Sian Fremaux 2) HT 2-1.