An hour for two points and a minute more – that sums up the men’s kabaddi final between India and Iran at the Asian Games here on Saturday that started on a tense note.
Built up to a nail-biting climax and then, out of nowhere, descended into a chaotic, confusing farce that left both teams and their management furious, amazed and critical of the refereeing before it was finally settled 33-29 in India’s favour.
India regained both the gold medals it had lost five years ago to be crowned men’s and women’s champions but the tension around the women’s final in the morning that India won by a single point 26-25 against Chinese Taipei was nothing compared to what came in the evening.
On a golden day for Indian sports, which saw the country cross the 100-medal milestone and make history with a first-ever badminton gold, it was the bizarre drama at the Xiaoshan Guali Sports Centre that became the main talking point.
The scores were level at 28-28 when India captain Pawan Sehrawat stepped up for a raid.
He tried to tag an Iranian defender but was unable to do so and, instead, stepped out in the lobby with the Iranians in pursuit. One of the Iranian players, Amirhossein Bastami, lost his balance and stepped out of bounds at the back.
And that’s when everything went downhill and into the chasm of confusion around the rules as both teams read them.
The rules, as mentioned by the International Kabaddi Federation, say that unless a raider has touched a defender initiating a struggle, no defender can enter the lobby in pursuit.
And if anyone does that or holds the raider in that area, then all the defenders in the lobby, with a touch on the raider will be declared out.
But in the updated Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) rules, if a raider steps out into the lobby without a touch, the raid immediately ends and only the raider is out, irrespective of who steps out after him. The referee announced a point each to both teams, as per the new PKL rules, something India challenged.
The referral was held up and the decision was changed to 4-1 in India’s favour. And then something happened that has as many versions as people watching the match in the stadium.
While Iran coach Gholamreza Mazandarani felt India pressed on despite a jury decision to hold up the game, India claimed that the decision was changed back to 1-1 on a signal from the stands.
With the entire top brass of International and Asian Kabaddi Federations in attendance – headed by India’s Vinod Kumar Tiwari and Iran’s Abbas Khajeh Avarseji, respectively – it seemed to become a power struggle on the sidelines more than a contest on it.
The jury changed the decision back to 1-1 and India refused to accept it, with the players sitting on the mat in protest.
Further consultations led to the decision becoming 3-1 (to India) and another protest enfolded, this time by Iran. Finally, the match was temporarily suspended as officials tried to work out a solution.
They finally went in for discussion after making a public mockery for more than an hour and returned, sticking to the international rules and awarding 3-1 in India’s favour to make it 31-29.
By then, it was just a formality as Iran had been reduced to two men and, with just 60 seconds left, India wrapped it up to take gold.
There was no indication of a usually 45-minute-long kabaddi match stretching for almost two hours when the teams took to the mat.
Tentative and cautious, probing the opposition before going for the big points, Iran took a 4-2 lead early on before Vishal Bhardwaj managed to get his leg over the line to make it 4-4.
Amirmohammad Zafar Danesh and Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh kept nipping away bonus points to stay ahead while Mohammadreza Shadloui Chiyaneh on the right corner and captain, Fazel Atrachali, on the left, kept a lid on Indian raiders’ bonus attempts.
But with the difference never more than three points at any point, India stayed close and took the lead for the first time with less than three minutes in the first half, reeling off five straight points to go 14-12 up and then get an all-out to go into the break 17-13 ahead.
The second half was more of the same, with neither team relenting in either pace or intensity.
Shadloui, primarily a defender, returned with two points at 21-16 and then again at 24-22, leaving Arjun Deshwal the lone man standing and duly tackling him for an all-out and 25-25. It stayed level till 28-28 with 90 seconds to go when Pawan stepped up. And then the clock remained stuck.
In the morning, the women’s team became the proud herald of India’s 100th medal in the edition and bringing that up with a gold made it special as the girls shouted ‘Veer bhogya swarna padak’, their war-cry, team motto and motivational slogan rolled into one.
The women started well and led 14-9 at the end of the first period with a super raid for both sides but Chinese Taipei, the only team to hold India to a draw in the opening match of the competition, fought back in the second refusing to go down without a fight, scoring 16 points to India’s 12 including a super tackle and effecting an all out.
But the eight bonus points India won proved to be the difference.