BIRMINGHAM: A horrendous error by the officials robbed the Indian women's hockey team of a huge opportunity.
It was an opportunity to put the mighty Australians under the pump and enter the CWG final but the callousness of the officials denied the gritty Indian team, which gave its all in pushing the most fearsome side in world hockey.
Australians were feeling the heat for the first time in the tournament. It could not have been a better start for India with Rosie Malone fluffing the first attempt. India skipper Savita Punia was excellent in blocking the scoring move.
But, wait. The Australians got back the missed chance because the officials did not start the clock. They take the shot again and this time a flustered Savita could not save it. The momentum changes.
Lalremsiami, Neha Goyal and Navneet Kaur all fail to score while Kaitlin Nobbs and Amy Lawton found the net. Australia walk away with the win and a place in the final.
"It does not matter, but of course it does matter".
These words from India's chief coach Janneke Schopman summed up the frustration, helplessness and the anger.
The Indian women's hockey team put up its best performance on the turf since finishing a historic fourth in last year's Tokyo Olympics, giving Australians a run for their money.
Even though they conceded a goal in the 10th minute, India equalised in the 49th minute through a brilliant field goal by Vandana Katariya.
Vandana's goal was also the first time Australia conceded in the tournament so far, having kept a clean slate in the pool stages.
But in the end, the players were reduced to frustrated lot.
"After that (clock howler), we lost a little bit of our momentum. Then it did go in, and everyone is deflated," Schopman, a double Olympic medallist, said.
"I'm not using it as an excuse, but when you make the save, that's an enormous boost for the team and you turn the decision around and the girls are really upset about it.
"The official's hand was up, but I didn't really know and the umpires -- A Church and H Harrison of England -- also did not. So, that's why I'm frustrated because the umpires said we have to retake it."
Schopman said humans are prone to errors but the officials need to take into account the emotional toll, which is attached to such a high-profile game.
"It's all human and all emotion. Should we be better? That's what I was trying to say, 'girls it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter'. But of course it does matter and of course I am angry also because I don't think even the officials understood what happened.
"They said it's not our decision. I said 'Australia are not complaining, they know they've missed it, it was easily 10 seconds and they got the opportunity to score'," she said.
"I think those people just don't understand the game and the emotions that are involved."
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) quickly apologised for the faux pas, saying it would "thoroughly review" the incident, but the fact of the matter remains the move would do very little to mend India's wound.
"In the semifinal match of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games
between Australia and India (Women), the penalty shootout started mistakenly too early (the clock was not yet ready to operate), for which we apologise," FIH said in a statement.
"The process in place for such situations is that the penalty shootout has to be retaken, which was done. This incident will be thoroughly reviewed by the FIH in order to avoid any similar issues in the future."
The "clock" howler had the fan enraged. Even former India cricketer Virender Sehwag could not stop himself from lashing out at the on-field umpires.
"Penalty miss hua Australia se and the Umpire says, Sorry Clock start nahi hua. Such biasedness used to happen in cricket as well earlier till we became a superpower, Hockey mein bhi hum jald banenge and all clocks will start on time. Proud of our girls," Sehwag tweeted.
A hurt India will now be gunning for at least a bronze when they take on New Zealand on Sunday.