New Delhi: India kicked off their preparations for next month's Olympic qualifiers in style thrashing South Africa 4-0 in the first hockey Test on Monday. (Agencies)
The Indians scored three goals in the first half through Shivendra Singh (15th minute), Birendra Lakra (24th), Sardara Singh (28th), while the last one came from the stick of debutant SK Uthappa (53rd) after the change of ends.
With the Olympic qualifiers just a month away, India's chief coach Michael Nobbs utilized the match to test his combination and bench strength and fielded two debutants - Harbir Singh and Uthappa - in the starting line-up.
Nobbs also did not field his first choice goalkeeper and regular skipper Bharat Chettri and instead played PR Sreejesh in first Test of the five-match series at the floodlit Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
From the onset, it seemed that the instructions were quite clear from Nobbs as the Indians went for all out attacking.
Nobbs' strategy paid rich dividends in the first half as the home team created more chances than their opponents and managed to breach South Africa's defence on three occasions.
The heartening fact was that all the conversions were field goals. South Africa too created a few opportunities in the first 35 minutes but their forward line lacked intent and purpose.
India, on the other hand, played fast hockey and utilised both the flanks to build their attacks.
The Indians pressed hard from the beginning and got their first scoring chance as early as in the fourth minute but for Chingelsana Singh, who shot wide from a close range.
India also earned two penalty corners in the first half but squandered both. While V Raghunath, who failed to stop Sarvanjit Singh's push, was the offender on the first occasion, it took a brilliant save from South Africa goalkeeper Erasmns Pieterse to deny Sandeep Singh in the next.
But it did not take long for India to break the deadlock when Shivendra Singh slammed the ball on to the top right of South Africa's goal in the 15th minute after receiving a pass from Manpreet Singh, whose clever interception set the scoring chance for the home team.
Birendra Lakra then doubled the scoreline for India in the 24th minute after he was beautifully set up by a one-two from Chingelsana and S V Sunil from the left flank.
The Indians made it 3-0 -minutes four minutes later when captain Sardar Singh slotted home the ball after he was set up by S V Sunil's solo run from the right.
If India went full throttle in the first half, they lacked intensity after the breather which was quite evidently visible from the eventual scoreline.
The South Africans, on the other hand, came out with purpose in the second period and created quite a few scoring chances but once again poor finishing let them down.
The Indians, however, managed to find the back of the South Africa net once in the second half, thanks to a brilliant stick work by debutant Uthappa in the 53rd minute.
Credit should also go to India's goalkeeper Sreejesh, who played a key role in keeping a clean slate for the hosts.
South Africa earned two penalty corners in a span of four minutes in the concluding stages of the second half, but on both the occasions, a brilliant Sreejesh came to his side's rescue.
India coach Nobbs was happy with the result of the match but said the performance of his wards dropped as the match progressed.
"We had a good first half. We created plenty of chances and scored three goals but both we were sloppy as the game went on.
"We could have scored more goals but in the end the match practice was really important for us," he said in the post-match press conference.
He was full of praise for young full back Harbir Singh and Uthappa, who made their debuts on Monday.
"Harbir played a solid game. Uthappa too was impressive. But we will keep on changing our team combination because we want to give everyone the opportunity to show their talent," Nobbs insisted.
Meanwhile, South Africa coach Gregg Clark has blamed lack of practice responsible for his side's poor performance on Monday, but warned India of a tough challenge in the remaining four matches.
"We haven't played a lot of hockey since the Champions Challenge I tournament (last year). We had very few training sessions which was evident in our game on Monday.
"We made sloppy errors and gave India soft balls. We were rusty on Monday but we are going to make them work hard (in the remaining matches)," Clarke said.
"We created chances but we lacked in finishing, otherwise the match could have been lot closer."
The second Test between the two sides will be played at the same venue on Tuesday.
New Delhi: India kicked off their preparations for next month's Olympic qualifiers in style thrashing South Africa 4-0 in the first hockey Test on Monday.