Kabaddi: India continue to dominate at Asiad

Men's team clinch seventh successive kabaddi gold winning 27-25 thriller against Iran; women win 31-21

V KrishnaswamyIncheon: India achieved a second successive ‘Golden Double’ in Asian Games Kabaddi as both their men’s and women’s teams rounded off the Games for India with a gold medal each at the Songdo University Gymnasium here yesterday.

Back in 1990, when kabaddi was first introduced at the Asian Games, it turned out to be the only gold medal India won at the Games held in the Chinese Capital. Since then the Indian men have never been pushed off the top spot on the podium and 2010 onwards, when the women’s section was added to the programme, the women, too, have been right up there.

Indian player grabs an Iranian attacker (in red) during the kabaddi gold medal match
An Indian player grabs an Iranian attacker (in red) during the kabaddi gold medal match in Incheon yesterday. Pics/PTI.

Yesterday, as the 17th Asian Games competition meandered towards the end, the Indian kabaddi teams won gold at the expense of Iran in both sections. That saw India close the Games with 11 gold, nine silver and 37 bronze for a total of 57 medals, which was eight short of the haul of 65, including 14 gold, achieved in 2010. India’s haul of 57 placed them fifth in the lost of total medal winners and eighth in the list of gold medal winning countries.

An Indian raider (in white) tries to touch an Iranian player
An Indian raider (in white) tries to touch an Iranian player during the final yesterday

Pitted against the fast emerging Iranian team, the men trailed all the way till three and a half minutes were left in the 40-minute clash, the women had an easier time. The women won 31-21 while the men, who trailed 13-21 at half-time finally won 27-25.

Coach Balwan Singh, a former India player himself, said, “All the Indian players have been part of the recent Pro Kabaddi and then we had a 20-day camp before we came here.”

Asked if the Pro Kabaddi has resulted in fatigue or injuries, he said, “There were some injuries but all that was sorted out in the 20-day camp and the players were fine here.”

For skipper Rakesh Kumar, who suffered an injury to his head, though he recovered in time for the finish at the medal distribution, and Navneet Gautam it was the third successive gold at Asian Games, while, Anup Kumar, Manjeet Chilar and Surjeet Kumar won their second gold, after having part of the 2010 teams also.

In the men’s final, Iran, who were almost pushovers for India at the 2010 Games — losing twice by margins of over 15 points — were in lead most of the time and gave the six-time defending champions a big scare. The Iranians kept their nose most of the time and at one time were 17-7 ahead before closing the first half at 21-13.

Indians had even conceded a ‘Lona’ (when the entire team gets out) in the first half. Anup Kumar’s successful raid, which fetched three points kept India in the game, even Jasvir Singh seemed to be over-aggressive and over-confident.

The second half saw some aggressive raids by India and that coupled with smart catching, helped reverse the trend. The turnaround came when soon into the second half, India won a ‘Lona’ and managed to get to 21-all before falling back again at 21-24. Another recovery helped them get to 24-all.

At that stage, Anup secured a point with a successful raid and when Iran’s Meraj Sheykh, one of their stars of the day, was caught it became a two-point edge for India at 26-24. But of the very next raid, Anup delayed his ‘return’ and was caught out to make it 25-26 with less than a minute left. Into the final few seconds, Meraj was again caught in Indian territory and that ended the match at 27-25 for India.

Captain Rakesh Kumar, who played with a bandaged head after getting injured by a rival defender’s knee during his raid in the second half, said, “By god’s grace we won. It was tougher than we expected. Iran is a good team, but we made some mistakes initially and fell behind before recovering.”

Rakesh added their half-time strategy revolved around dismissing Iran for a ‘Lona’ - as Iran had four left and India had five. “We managed that and that helped us equalize and move ahead. If we had conceded a greater lead, it would have been tough for us,” he said.

The Iranians looked fitter and faster, but the Indians, who are match-sharp — having played recent Pro Kabaddi — were more experienced and that carried them through.

Before the men came on stage, the Indian women were held to only a slight edge over the Iranians at 12-10 before making it a 21-13 lead including two ‘Lonas’. They finished off the match 31-21 for their second gold in a row.

Captain Tejeswini Bai, Kavita Devi and Mamatha Poojary of the women’s team were winning their second gold, after having been part of the 2010 team also.

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