The totally perfunctory acknowledgement of its victory highlighted the ease with which the Indian men’s kabaddi team advanced to the final, even a 61-14 scoreline in the semifinal against Pakistan on Friday not being an accurate representation of India’s dominance on the mat. The final, against defending champion Iran, will be the toughest outing for the Indians here and a chance to go back on top after the shocking bronze in 2018.
It started with four points to Pakistan in its first two raids and then one with 12 minutes remaining in the first half — but those were to be its only points in the period. India’s charge began with its third raid, led by Naveen Kumar. He got two points with an out and a bonus, repeated the pattern immediately after to level scores at 4-4 and then Mudassar Ali was successfully tackled. With only two players left standing, Naveen effected an all-out on Pakistan – the first of six by India through the match, three in each half — for four points as India went up 11-4 inside of seven minutes.
The cycle kept repeating – captain Pawan Sehrawat, Naveen and Aslam Inamdar taking turns to walk over, take out a couple of opponents along with the occasional bonus points and casually stroll back into their half even as Pakistan struggled in both attack and defence.
At half time, India led 30-5. “The scoreline might look one-sided but to be honest, we pulled back after the first 20 minutes, or we could have scored even more. We dominated the game and controlled the momentum, but we were not at maximum intensity,” India coach Bhaskaran Edachery said after the match.
Despite that, India added another 31 points in the second half while Pakistan got nine including three bonus points. The fact that both Pawan and Naveen barely played in the second period made no difference to India’s scoring rate as Akash Shinde and Sachin stepped in as substitutes and continued the job. And even though Sachin and Surjeet were impressive in defence, they were barely called upon to step up.
“This was an important match but the real challenge will be tomorrow in the final, that is what our target is. We wanted to conserve energy, give everyone mat time, preserve our players and did not want to take any chances with anyone before the final against Iran, which is why we took out Pawan and Naveen in the 2nd half. But all our 12 players are fit and ready to go for the main thing,” Edachery added.
Pawan Sehrawat admitted the team was looking forward to “reclaim our gold”. “It (losing the gold) has hurt for the last five years and we are going to go all out to get our gold back. It will not be easy, of course, but we came here prepared to prove we are the best. The Pro Kabaddi League has made everyone familiar with each other both on and off the mat – they know how Pawan plays and we know what are the strengths and weaknesses of Fazel (Atrachali) and (Mohammadreza) Shadlou. It will be a match worth watching. Hum apna gold wapas lenge,” he declared.
Iran, meanwhile, sent out its own warning with a comprehensive 47-24 win against Chinese Taipei in the other semifinal. The Iranian women, also defending champions, though crashed 25-34 to Chinese Taipei in the semifinal to end with a bronze even as India thrashed Nepal 61-17 in the other semifinal.