The 23-year-old Bharat Chikara may concede many inches to the gangling Rehan Butt but the dapper Indian towered over Pakistan’s star in the teams’ inaugural match in the Hero Honda FIH World Cup on a heady Sunday night when you could have reached out and felt the electricity that charged the Maj. Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
The man of the match Sandeep Singh scored once in each half while Shivendra Singh and Prabhjot Singh pumped in one each as India piled immense pressure on the Pakistan defence. Yet, it was really the Indian midfield that won the day and helped India win 4-1. And none shone brighter than Bharat Chikara who gave Rehan Butt little elbow room to showcase his magical skills.
In a sport in which the focus is usually on the strikers and, less frequently, the goalkeepers, it needs a command performance from a midfielder to steal the thunder from under everyone else’s nose. And Bharat Chhikara did just that – and to make things so much better, the Haryana player with just over 50 caps did it without much ado.
To say that he shadowed Rehan Butt would be taking away the sheen from Bharat Chikara’s efforts. For shadowing entails being in the slipstream of the rival player. On the contrary, the tough left-half was half a step ahead of the Pakistan spearhead and almost intuitively anticipated his every twist, every feint right through the game.
It is another matter that the midfielder thought his performance was quite average. “I gave Rehan Butt some room early on and I think I could have been better,” he told me after the match when the media largely ignored him and pursued the scorers. “I got a fair idea of how he thinks and moves from the match in the Champions Challenge I in Argentina in December last.”
But he can draw heart from the fact that coach Jose Brasa picked him and Sardara Singh as the Indian players of the night. “We were better than Pakistan in all our lines – be it defence, midfield or forwards – but I know that we could have played better,” he said. “Having said that, I believe Bharat and Sardara led the team’s collective effort.”
Truth to tell, the others in the Indian midfield played their hearts out as well, falling back deep to defend but showing no hesitation in pressing forward and forcing Pakistan to be on the backfoot much of the time, ensuring that goalkeeper P R Sreejesh was rarely tested. On a night when the woodwork favoured India by blocking two of Sohail Abbas’s penalty corner strikes, the intensity that Bharat Chikara displayed was matched by his team-mates.
Sardara Singh, for example, showed nerves of steel and a large heart as he played the pivotal role in ensuring that many Pakistan moves did not assume dangerous proportions and the Indian attack was well fed. Arjun Halappa and Dhananjay Mahadik had their moments as well on a night when India’s collective effort – and this included the pressure exerted from the stands — outweighed Pakistan.
This piece was written for www.stick2hockey.com