By Our Sports Reporter
IMPHAL, Nov 29 : Late winner by P Ojit helped India-B representing Manipur beat England by 6-5 goals in a thrilling final match to rightfully claim the title of the 13th Manipur Polo International organised under the supervision of Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association at Mapal Kangjeibung since November 22.
India-B which enjoyed a streak of 4 wins in the league round, including 6-4 win against England, managed to remain on top as P Ojit topscored with four goals in this edge of the seat final. England's Ben Eley too scored four goals, including two goals in the last chukker to help his team mount a comeback but his effort went in vain as P Ojit's last minute was worth enough of a winner.
Both India-B and England started the game on the same pace and it was Ben Eley who opened up the account in the 4th minute before P Ojit pulled level in the 7th minute to make it 1-1 till first chukker. India-B buoyed by cheers of local fans surged ahead in the second chukker with P Ojit scoring twice in the 4th and the 6th minute to make it 3-1 before Th Jacob's own goal reduced the gap by one goal. Jacob however redeemed himself by scoring a goal few seconds latter to make it 4-2 till halfway.
In the third chukker, Jacob scored his second to add to India-B's tally and England kept the spirit alive with Ben Eley scoring his second capitalising on a late chance.
The game took an interesting turn in the last chukker as England toiled hard to close the gap while the local side looked to widened the lead. England's hard work paid off and it was Ben Eley who connected to two goals back to back in the 4th and the 5th minute to keep the competition wide open. The match almost needed an extra chukker to decide the winners as both team looked evenly poised but a last minute goal by Ojit helped India-B settle the game 6-5.
The closing ceremony of the tournament participated by five teams, India-A, India-B, France, USA and England was graced by Governor Dr Najma Heptulla as chief guest. Speaking on the occasion, the Governor expressed her appreciation to the initiative already taken up by the State Government to establish a Pony Sanctuary at Heingang in a bid to preserved the Manipuri Pony. She also encouraged all the pony owners to protect and preserve the ponies as the breed is under threat due to lack of care. She also mentioned about the significance and historical relevance of the Manipuri pony, which is one of the five recognised breeds in India.
She congratulated the Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association for organizing this International event, inviting teams from other parts of the globe and expressed hope that the event will help placing Manipur on Polo map of the world.
Later, the chief guest feted the winners and runners up teams with cash award of Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50 ,000 respectively along with trophies.
90+ of MPSC's Kh Nongpoknganba was adjudged best pony of the tournament while USA's Tommy Huber was named most valuable player.
The closing ceremony was attended by Losii Dikho, Minister, PHED and Th Radheshyam Singh , Minister, Education as president and guest of honour.
Ben Eley, the English captain, though disappointed at losing in the finals once again after coming so close, derived consolation from the fact that the English team gave a very strong performance. “It was a close match, it could have been anybody’s game”. Of the Manipuri players, he felt Jacob, Ojit and Leishemba played very well. Talking about the tournament, the one thing that he would like to see change, is awarding a hit when the ball goes out instead of a throw in.
The Manipur captain, T Pradeep while dedicating the win to the polo lovers of the State said, “It is their love and cooperation which has made this win possible”. Taking about the tournament, he revealed that the team took some time in finding their rhythm and understanding between the players. Among the matches leading upto the final, he found the one against USA to be the toughest. As for the final match, he said, “We were not thinking so much about the opposition but on getting the coordination right among us”. Pradeep was all praise for the younger players of the team and maintained that they are very disciplined as also skilful. "They have a good future ahead”, he added. (with inputs from DIPR and MHRPA media release)