Sharda Ugra: Sublime Rani goal creates special CWG memory
With 12 minutes to go, India's progress in the Gold Coast women's hockey competition was to be elevated by a golden goal. Three quarters of gritty, sticky-defence and flails on goal, was leading to butterflies over the team's passage into the semi-final.
Sum and substance: India are through to the semi-final of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games defeating South Africa 1-0 in their last group game.
Residual fact - if you missed that goal, go and find it on our CWG page. It was a passage of play that doesn't leave the mind quickly and for the moment, has become a reference point for the efficient beauty that lies latent in the women's team.
In the 48th minute, shaking off what has gone before, the Indian forward line moves onto another plane. Of skill, pace and control. Navneeet Kaur tears down the left and feeds Vandana Katariya, who had started the move before slipping into the centre within sight of Navneet's pass. Sylph-like, quicksilver, Vandana is a stiletto through the mid field, stretching herself and falling away as she seeks the best line ahead towards captain Rani Rampal, who has materialized in front of goal..
Rani has the goalkeeper and a defender crowding around her ankles, as she receives Vandana's pass. With her back to them, she turns, she spins. It would have taken the blink of an eye between Rani taking the smallest step to her left and the ball ending up in goal. That twitch is to free up space and clear Rani's path and she slots it between the wrong-footed defender and the flustered goalkeeper. Watch it over and over. Rani will never be rushing, her internal clock has slowed down to match the deliberate precision of the movements she will make. It is what the great ones always do. The goal was finished by Rani with a whisper of magic, but it came from in the collective will of the forward line, the mind of Vandana and the vision of Navneet.
The Indians looked home and dry, but with just under seven minutes to go, forward Lalremsiami received her second yellow card of the match and was sent to the sin bin for five minutes. The South Africans, who needed a win to enter the semi-final, pressed forward against the Indian team down to ten players and crowded over their defence. When a penalty was awarded to the South Africans with just over two minutes to go, the Indians challenged the decision. Goalkeeper Savita Punia had been obdurate until then, but who knew what could happen through South African adrenalin and Indian desperation for defence? It took the video umpire a good long while but when the decision was overturned, the Indians only had to run down the clock.
The wait had been too long for Lalremsiami, whose second yellow card and sending off had amped up the pressure on her team. At 17, the youngest of the Indian women, their rare Mizo hockey player, room-mate of captain Rani, couldn't bear it any more. She burst into copious tears and had to be comforted by her amused coach, Harendra Singh. It would be a night to remember in many ways - with a gorgeous goal and India's entry into the Gold Coast semi-final.