Kabaddi Gold: India’s Birthright, Almost!
Since its Asian Games debut in 1990, the one thing that has not changed is the Indian men’s kabaddi team’s result at the competition. Gold.
Monu Goyat has close to 37,000 followers on Instagram. So what, you may ask. Goyat is not a film star, a model or a cricketer. Heck, he’s not even a badminton player – the athletes other than cricketers who have massive social media following in India. Goyat is a kabaddi player. The 25 year old from Hansi in Haryana was picked up by the Haryana Steelers franchise of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) earlier this year for a massive `1.51 crore. That was a more than 50% jump from the previous season’s most expensive player, Nitin Tomar, who was picked up for `93 lakh.
Since its Asian Games debut in 1990, the one thing that has not changed is the Indian men’s team’s result at the competition. Gold. Every single team. It is hands down the one event India owns at the Games. And if there’s one thing that has changed from the last edition in 2014 to the latest one now in Jakarta and Palembang, it is the very fabric of the sport, thanks to the PKL, which in these five years has had five tremendously successful seasons. And success stories, such as that of Goyat, who with his agricultural family background, could only in dreams think of living in a double storeyed house with a swanky SUV parked outside it.
The success of the PKL has changed the very aura of the Indian men’s kabaddi team that heads to Indonesia to bag its eighth gold medal. Anything else will be nothing short of a massive upset. You’d imagine the pressure to keep a track record like that intact would be immense. Not quite.
“I consider the current Indian team as the best Indian team that has taken part in the Asian Games ever,” says Ram Mehar Singh, coach of the Patna Pirates PKL side. While countries like Iran and South Korea have recently made strides in the sport themselves, the Kabaddi gold at Jakarta and Palembang 2018 is India’s to lose. “There is not even a 1% chance that we will get troubled, or any other team will challenge for our medal,” he adds. Singh has been appointed as coach of the Indian kabaddi team for the upcoming Asian Games.
The Pro Kabaddi League is the world’s most lucrative Kabaddi League and has helped in fast-tracking young Indian talent into competitive action, giving them a platform, funds and exposure that was unheard of in the sport. Kabaddi’s profile in India has always been low despite the unprecedented Asian Games and World Cup success. But now, it’s fighting for column inches in national dailies. Pardeep Narwal and Monu Goyat of Patna Pirates, Ajay Thakur of Tamil Thalaivas and Rishank Devadiga of UP Yodhhas are now household names. They will also be forming the core of the Indian team when they begin their Asian Games campaign in just a few days.
The Indian team’s strength lies in its attacking capabilities. Captain Ajay Thakur is nailed on to start as one of the raiders, while Devadiga has staked a claim for the starting berth with his performances at the recently concluded Kabaddi Masters in Dubai. His performance against Kenya in the tournament where he scored 13 raid points for the team may just see him pip the likes of Gangadhari Mallesh to the spot.
Girish Ernak, Mohit Chhillar and Raju Lal Chaudhary will take care of defensive responsibilities for the team, while all-rounders Deepak Hooda and Sandeep Narwal (two players who have been among the most consistent performers in the Pro Kabaddi League) will cater to the needs of the team according to whatever the situation calls for in-game.
Speaking about the team’s preparations for the Asian Games, Pardeep Narwal said, “The team is preparing well, both the offence and the defence looks strong. Iran and Korea are strong teams, but we have a strong team as well. We will easily beat the other teams.”
Ram Mehar Singh spoke about the depth in the Indian squad being one of its strengths. “We have the likes of Pardeep (Narwal), Ajay Thakur, but we also have Rohit (Kumar) who can come in and step in for them. There is an alternative to every player within the team. We are perfect across every position. We will play well, with planning and with a free mind. And by god’s grace, we will come back with the gold medal.”
At the very highest level of a sport, it is rare to find teams who have dominated a tournament like the Indian men’s kabaddi team has at the Asian Games. And you’ve got to be really brave to be betting against them returning with Gold No. 8 from Indonesia.
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