England hockey left it to the last minute in Birmingham

·3 min read
Commonwealth Games - Hockey - Men - Pool B - England v India - University of Birmingham Hockey and Squash centre, Birmingham, Britain - August 1, 2022 England's Nicholas Bandurak celebrates scoring their fourth goal with teammates REUTERS/Phil Noble (Phil Noble / reuters)

If this was England’s mock exam they did not pass with flying colours. With a bit of cramming they might be ready for the real thing.

The men’s hockey side took on India knowing that both sides will likely progress to the semi-finals, although goal difference meant a win would likely be needed to avoid favourites Australia in the final.

Under the watchful gaze of Old Joe, the imposing clock tower at the University of Birmingham, England got themselves into trouble and trailed 3-0 at the break and 4-1 in the fourth quarter only to mount a stunning comeback and draw 4-4.

They might even have won it at the end, but considering they have lost key man Brendan Creed for the remainder of the tournament – he was spotted hobbling around on crutches and in a moon boot – while skipper Zach Wallace missed the game through illness, it was a stirring effort.

And Wolverhampton’s Nick Bandurak, who is one of over 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support, who scored the final two goals to level, was impressed by the character of the team.

He said: “Losing Brendan was huge. The general character he has in the changing room and his presence at the back, as No 1 runner and injecting at corners, he does everything for us. And to find out your captain has gone down in the biggest game of the tournament so far, some teams would have folded with that news.

“But to play that short-handed and with then that deficit to come back, it shows what this team is about.”

The first-half struggles will be a concern and will need to be resolved whoever they play in the semi-final.

Liam Ansell got them back in it with a goal early in the second half, with Phil Roper then producing a brilliant individual effort after Harmanpreet Singh had seemingly wrapped it up with India’s fourth.

Bandurak had other ideas and admits England cannot afford to find themselves in that position again.

He added: “Once the emotion dies down and we can reflect coldly on it, we should never have found ourselves in that deficit. India were ruthless and clinical and we just weren’t getting that final connection in the circle.

“Sport’s funny, isn’t it? As soon as the second half started to roll, the crowd got behind us, we got extra energy, things started to happen in the 23m and happened for us. A few more minutes and I believe it could have gone in our favour.”

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