Amit Rohidas (30) of India celebrates after scoring a goal against Spain during a match of the Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023. (PTI)
Amit Rohidas effortlessly scored a goal, nutmegged players and kept the Spanish attackers at bay. The India vice-captain could do everything that was asked of him on a night when the team produced a near-perfect defensive performance. Well, almost.
He was asked who all from his family were in the stands to watch India’s opening match of the World Cup. “Mom and dad,” he began. “Brother, elder sister,” he continued. “Sister-in-law, and an uncle and badi maa.” Smiles. “A couple of neighbours, a few friends…” Paused to think. And gave up. “Who all should I name?” Laughs.
Rohidas could’ve named each one of the 20,000 people inside the Birsa Munda Stadium.
Son of the Rourkela soil, Rohidas grew up playing less than 3km from the Birsa Munda Stadium, at the serene Panposh hockey academy that overlooks the confluence of three rivers – Shankh, Koel and Sarasvati. On the morning of India’s opening World Cup match, one of Rohidas’s childhood coaches, Lazarus Barla, joked it’s this setting that produces calm minds. In the evening, the former India international’s protege proved him right.
In the 12th minute, Harmanpreet Singh’s drag-flick was blocked by Spain’s first-rusher even before it took proper flight. It was fate – or to his credit, Rohidas’s sense of positioning – that the rebound fell near the India vice-captain and as that happened, the crowd instinctively got on its feet, in anticipation.
Amidst the chaos inside the Spanish ‘D’ with the defenders crowding him, and deafening noise emanating from the stands, Rohidas kept his cool and unleashed a shot so powerful that it went past Spain’s goalkeeper Adrian Rafi even before he could react and almost tore apart the net. Such was the force behind the shot that, even though they were good 20-something feet away and had three layers of protection in front of them, the bunch of fans crammed right behind Spain’s goal reflexively flinched.
The India defender’s record-setting goal – it was the country’s 200th strike at the World Cups – settled the team’s nerves and put them on course for an impressive 2-0 win in their opening match of Pool D.
Before they left for Odisha, when they were applying the finishing touches to their preparations in Bangalore, a couple of Indian players had mentioned how crucial it is for the team’s collective psyche to score the first goal in the match. “It gives us wings,” a forward said. “On the flip side, if we concede, we tend to go flat.”
Impressive defensive work-rate
And although the focus, at least early on, was to get on the scoreboard, it was India’s defensive work-rate that stood out. For a team that’s conceded close to 100 goals in the last calendar year, this was a rare clean sheet. And that, for India, will be the biggest take-away.