THE National hockey team, with seven players earning their first cap Thursday, beat South Africa 3-2 in the 23rd Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh yesterday.
There were plenty of misses, with 11 penalty corners wasted, but the scoreline was pleasing as Malaysia took their chances with a host of youth for the future.
Malaysia started on a shaky note, as they kept on missing sitters for the first five minutes, but finally nailed the lead off Shahril Saabah in the 10th minute off a field attempt.
The Junior World Cup player made his senior debut yesterday and scored a lovely goal, however it was too early to douse the South African fire as they came back fighting.
South Africa won their first penalty corner in the 16th minute, and Jethro Eustice made it count with a low flick which went crashing into the board for the equaliser.
A huge turnout of schoolchildren, with drums and horns, kept cheering the Malaysian side and this is what the Malaysian side need to lift their game to a higher tempo if they want to collect full points. For the record, the two teams last met at the World League semi-finals in Johor Baru and Malaysia won 6-2.
However, with an almost new outfit in Ipoh, Malaysia entered the dressing room sharing the spoils with South Africa.
The second Malaysian goal was in the making as coach K. Dharmaraj's men started with more confidence after the breather, and a good run and then cross by by Firhan Ashaari in the 42nd minute was cooly connected home by Rashid Baharom for the lead again.
Rashid was also making his debut, and collected his first cap with style as he assisted in the first goal, and scored the second.
Malaysia then won a slew of penalty corners, bringing their tally to ten, but still failed to make the break wider.
But the South Africa were sharper as they made another comeback by scoring off their fifth penalty corner, which was another low push in the 57th minute, again by Eustice .
However, Faizal Saari made sure Malaysia collected full points by salvaging an almost botched penalty corner, their 12th, in the 63rd minute.
"We had many new players who earned their first caps today, but they played really well and even though we missed many chances, the win will strengthen this side in the coming matches," said Dharmaraj.
Azlan Misron, the skipper 324 caps, said he did not feel uneasy playing with so many rookies: "They played really well even though it was their first cap, and as an experience player myself, I will help them however I can to make them into better players in the next matches."
Meanwhile, in the curtain raiser, Australia whacked China 7-0 to assert their intention of lifting their eighth Azlan Shah Cup crown.
It took the defending champions only three minutes to score when Nicholas Budgeon sent in a low penalty corner drive. Budgeon went on to claim his hat-trick by scoring another two in the 56th and 65th minutes off penalty corner attempts.
The rookie of 15 caps, Budgeon showed a rare touch with penalty corners which was always a problem with the Australian side in previous years and he was aptly named as the man-of-the-match.
The other five goals were scored by Trent Mitton (20th), Jamie Dwyer (34th), Jacob Whetton (37th) and Russell Ford (47th).
Meanwhile, the haze in Kuala Lumpur reached dangerous levels and the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) decided to postpone the start of the Malaysia Hockey League Division One matches which were supposed to start today. Only the match played in Terengganu, will be held as scheduled.
RESULTS: Australia 7 China 0; Malaysia 3 South Africa 2.
P W D L F A Pts
AUSTRALIA 1 1 0 0 7 0 3
MALAYSIA 1 1 0 0 3 2 3
S AFRICA 1 0 0 1 2 3 0
CHINA 1 0 0 1 0 7 0
S KOREA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
CANADA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
FRIDAY: South Korea v Canada (6pm), China v South Africa (6pm).
March 15: REST DAY.
March 16: Australia v Canada (6pm), South Korea v Malaysia (8pm).
March 17: South Africa v Australia (4pm), China v South Korea (6pm), Malaysia v Canada (8pm).
March 18: REST DAY.
March 19: Canada v South Africa (6pm), Malaysia v China (8pm).
March 20: Canada v China (6pm), South Korea v Australia (8pm).
March 21: REST DAY.
March 22: Australia v Malaysia (6pm), South Africa v South Korea (8pm).