India's medal hopes in the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament went up in smoke as New Zealand rode on a penalty corner hat-trick by Andrew Hayward to humiliate the title holders 7-3 in their last round-robin league match here in Ipoh on Thursday.
India squandered the lead thrice before Hayward produced a hat-trick of drag-flicked goals to put the Black Sticks in command and spoil India's chance of claiming a medal in the event, which they won outright in 2009 and were joint champions along with South Korea last year.
By virtue of this loss, India slipped to the fifth position in the seven-team round-robin league table, which is being headed by world champions Australia, who defeated Great Britain 2-1 earlier in the day.
Five-time Azlan Shah Cup winners, Australia now have 13 points from five games and are assured of a place in Sunday's summit clash with one league match still to go against New Zealand.
However, Australia's opponent in the final will only be decided on Saturday as Great Britain, Pakistan and New Zealand all have a chance of making it to the title clash.
But with nine points each in their kitty, Great Britian and Pakistan are slightly better placed than the Black Sticks. For New Zealand to qualify for the final, they will first have to beat Australia on Saturday and hope other two contenders -- Great Britain and Pakistan -- lose their last league matches.
India's opponent for Sunday's classification playoffs will also be decided on Saturday.
Hayward's hat-trick of penalty corner goals came in the space of 14 minutes midway through the second session when the Indian defence again caved in under pressure.
To add to it, two speedy field goals by Blair Hilton and one strike each from Nicholas Wilson and Shay Neal gave New Zealand their biggest win ever against India.
For India, Gurwinder Singh Chandi scored two field goals after S V Sunil had opened the scoring.
India drew first blood in the 20th minute through an outstanding goal by Sunil, who latched on to a long diagonal ball from Ravipal Singh on top of the circle and slotted home past the onrushing goalkeeper.