Sher-E-Punjab justified their top billing by coming from a goal down to trounce Pune Strykers 5-2 to lift the inaugural World Series Hockey crown in front of a packed gathering at the MHA-Mahindra Stadium at Mumbai on Monday.
Stunned by an early field goal scored from what looked to be an impossible angle by Strykers' Tyron Pereira, Sher-E-Punjab players fought back in brilliant style through their experienced campaigners and ex-internationals Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh, the captain who scored twice.
The Punjab goal-scorers, who soaked up the pressure of their younger and speedier rivals very well in the first half and led 2-1, were V S Vinaya (6th minute), Thakur (33rd), Prabhjot (47th and 66th minutes) and Harpreet Singh (57th).
Simrandeep Randhawa notched a consolation penalty corner goal for the losing team in the last minute of the summit clash to reduce the margin of defeat.
While the first half saw an evenly contested game, the Punjab team totally took control of the proceedings in the latter half to emerge convincing winners of the first edition of the eight-team tournament that began on February 29.
The winners received Rs 4 crore and the runners-up Rs 2 crore. The losing semi-finalistsÂ Chandigarh Comets and Karnataka LionsÂ got Rs one crore each.
Strykes, who had come back from the brink of defeat in the semi-final against Chandigarh Comets last night, started the match in brilliant fashion by making the first foray deep into the rival half and got a splendid goal in the process.
Tyron Pereira scooped over all the defenders and custodian Sukhjit Singh into the goal from a very acute angle on the right, with no one expecting such a shot to give the Strykers the early lead in the 4th minute.
However, the advantage for Pune was short-lived as the Punjab outfit restored parity in the very next minute from their first penalty corner award taken in an indirect manner, with V S Vinaya finding the mark to the left of a flummoxed Strykers goalie Gurpreet Singh Guri.
The Punjab outfit squandered two more penalty corners in succession after veteran Prabhjot Singh, their skipper, missed a sitter in a 1-1 situation against the rival custodian from handshaking distance off a cross to him from Mandeep Antil.
At the other end, the Punjab citadel was threatened by the splendid skills and speed shown by Strykers' Argentine recruit Mario Almada, Roshan Minz, Nikkin Thimmiah and Bikash Topo with good feeds from skipper Kenny Pereira and Vikas Pillay.
Sher-E-Punjab were kept in check as their dangerous striker and former India international Deepak Thakur, the team's leading scorer with 11 strikes to his credit, was marked effectively.
Some splendid work under the bar from Guri also helped the Strykers' cause, particularly in defending penalty corners.
At the end of the first quarter the teams were level 1-1. But Thakur from a splendid through ball from Australian Mathew Hotchkis scored a brilliant goal from the top of the 'D' on the turn, completely beating Guri under the Strykers bar who did not expect it The excellent field effort from the 31-year-old player put Punjab 2-1 ahead as the teams went into the half-time break.
The Strykers continued to put the rival goal under pressure with their speedy thrusts in which Thimmiah was exceptional, but it was their own citadel that fell due to combined presence of long-time friends and ex-India teammates Prabhjot and Thakur.
After repeatedly threatening the Pune citadel, Prabhjot finally got a loose ball in an unmarked position just inside the 'D' and struck home with a reverse hit even as a defender was challenging him to give Punjab a handy 3-1 advantage in the 47th minute of the encounter.
The third quarter ended with the same scoreline.
Sher-E-Punjab, who topped the league stage of the competition, looked to have secured the trophy when Harpreet Singh sounded the board with an effective penalty corner essay, the seventh set-piece earned by them, to put the team 4-1 ahead in the 57th minute.
The Strykers strove hard to get back into the game like they had done so brilliantly yesterday, but the Punjab outfit prevented them with some robust defending.
Prabhjot then sealed victory with a brilliant goal after a solo run, reverse hitting the ball past the rival goalkeeper into the roof of the net to give his side an unassailable 5-1 lead with four minutes left.
The second goal for Pune by Simrandeep, off their third short corner award, came too late to make any difference.