Asian Games 2018: In probably the biggest upset in the ongoing Asian Games in Indonesia, the Indian Kabaddi team lost to Iran 18-27 in Jakarta on Thursday afternoon, failing to bring back a Gold for the first time since 1990.
Asian Games 2018: In probably the biggest upset in the ongoing Asian Games in Indonesia, the Indian Kabaddi team lost to Iran 18-27 in Jakarta on Thursday afternoon, failing to bring back a Gold for the first time since 1990. Indian raiders were outclassed by a strong Iranian defence comprising captain Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mighani on either corner. The Indian team, plush with Pro Kabaddi League stars like Pardeep Narwal, Rahul Chaudhari, Deepak Niwas Hooda, failed to pick itself after captain Ajay Thakur was forced to leave the mat following an injury.
Questions have already been raised and former Indian skipper Anup Kumar under whom the team had won 2014 Asian Games and 2016 Kabaddi World Cup have warned that the loss could have “far-reaching implications”. Known as captain cool, Anup Kumar said that even though boys were sincere, they probably didn’t factor in that Iran has improved in leaps and bounds over the years.
Lack of coordination in defence
Over the years, India has had the best defence in the world and the man who has led it – Surender Nada – was surprisingly left out of the Asiad team. The former Haryana Steelers captain, with his right corner partner Mohit Chillar, has brought down some of the best raiders to the mat. Nada had finished the 5th season of Pro Kabaddi League as the leading defender and produced a match-winning performance in the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup final. He and Chillar had gained a reputation of the world’s most lethal left-right combo which can easily belong to the Iranian duo of Fazel and Abozar now.
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— ProKabaddi (@ProKabaddi) August 23, 2018
In Nada’s absence, Girish Ernak guarded the left corner for India. The 28-year-old defender was good in patches and produced some camera-worthy moments but there was a clear lack of communication between him and Chillar. This led to unwanted tackles and more errors in defence than India would have liked.
To make matters worse, the selectors had dropped Manjeet Chillar and Surjeet Singh from the squad – the two best covers in the world. Both these players not just stand like a rock in defence but are also more than capable in stealing points on raids. While the experienced Sandeep Narwal took one cover position in Asiad, the other was taken by Deepak Niwas Hooda – an all-rounder who played as the first raider for Puneri Paltan in the last season of PKL.
For those who watched the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup final, Balwan Singh standing on the sidelines and motivating his team would be a non-forgetable sight. A legend of his own type, Balwan Singh was replaced by Ram Mehar Singh – the man who led Patna Pirates to title win PKL – as team India coach for the Asian Games.
Unlike any other sport, Kabaddi demands a good understanding between the coach and captain – a trait that went for a toss with Ram Mehar Singh’s appointment. Ajay Thakur who was very close to Anup Kumar and Balwan Singh, didn’t have the same understanding with Ram Mehar. The differences were visible in the team selection as Patna Pirates skipper Pardeep Narwal started the final despite his poor record in international jersey and repeated failure against Fazel and Abozar in Pro Kabaddi League.
After the loss, Singh blamed skipper Thakur, the last thing the Indian team needed at this moment. “We lost the match due to the captain’s over confidence, injury played a part, and super tackle,” the dejected coach said after the shocking defeat at the Theatre Garuda.
Ajay Thakur’s absence
Despite Ram Mehar blaming the Indian skipper, it was Ajay Thakur’s absence that went against India. Two years ago, India had faced a similar situation in the Kabaddi World Cup final against Iran when they were trailing initially. But, it was Thakur who almost single-handedly took India out of that situation and staged one of the best comebacks ever with super raid after super raid.
In Asiad final, at half-time, the scores were equal but the master of epic comebacks, Thakur was forced to leave the mat with a head injury early in the second half. Not only did India lose its best raider, they were also without a leader on the mat – a problem that could have solved if Manjeet Chillar or Surjeet Singh were in the team.
— Home Of Kabaddi (@HomeOfKabaddi) August 23, 2018
“Ajay is a leader. When your leader is out for the maximum time, you tend to lose your way and that’s what happened. Our boys started well in the first five minutes but I was surprised that the speed and intensity lacked thereafter,” Anup Kumar said after the loss.
The loss comes as a wake-up call for the Indian selectors that while Pro Kabaddi stars add an extra dimension to the team, the importance of players like Manjeet Chillar who have been there for as long as one could remember cannot be undermined. The team also needs to understand that PKL has helped other nations like Korea and Iran to grow for the good of the sport.
With players like Rahul Chaudhari, Pardeep Narwal and Monu Goyat all in their early 20s, India will still enter the 2020 Kabaddi World Cup as favourites and losses like this can help them not repeat the mistakes.