CWG hockey: Clock controversy overshadows brave India comeback in a heartbreaking defeat to Australia

Savita Punia, never the one to hide her emotions, pumped her fist and broke out in an impromptu, slightly restrained, celebration, aware of the huge advantage she has handed her team.

After pulling off a string of saves in regulation time in the Commonwealth Games semifinal against Australia, which ended with both sides level at 1-1, the India captain denied Rosie Malone in her first attempt in the penalty shoot-outs.

Lalremsiami then stepped up to take her shoot-out but just as she was about to begin her run, the umpire stopped her, saying that the first Australian shoot-out had to be retaken because the shot-clock did not start during her initial attempt .

It was a bizarre sequence of events, with coach Janneke Schopman expressing her displeasure and protesting, in vain, with the referees.

Malone did not miss the second time, putting Australia in the lead. The first three Indian players – Lalremsiami, Nehal Goyal and Navneet Kaur – missed their chances as Australia won 3-0 to advance to the final. India, meanwhile, will play New Zealand in the bronze medal playoff on Sunday.

Schopman, who spent considerable time consoling her distraught players after the match, came down heavily on the match officials, saying the clock controversy ‘did not help’ her team.

“I just don’t understand. Australia weren’t complaining… I don’t think even the officials understood what happened… it’s not an excuse but that didn’t help us for sure,” she said.

This isn’t the first time such an incident, very rare in international hockey, has taken place in a match involving India. Exactly a year ago, during the Indian men’s team’s bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics, the match officials did not restart the clock after a break in play, forcing the match to be played for 11 extra seconds.

Friday’s controversy, however, overshadowed a thrilling contest where India made a brave comeback.

Rebecca Greiner scored for Australia in the tenth minute before Vandana Katariya scored the equalizer in the 49th minute of the match.

Savita saved a penalty corner earned by Australia in the final minute, forcing a tie-breaker.

Schopman said the clock controversy at the beginning might have affected the focus of his players.

“It is tough and I think we’re trying as coaches to be able to…but that’s life. It is emotional and there was so much at stake. Of course, they need not to be influenced by it, but they’re also humans and it did play a role. The players are sad and they should be sad. We fought really hard and were very close to playing in the final,” she said.

Savita added, “I can only say that it is tough for us but it’s part of the game.”

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