Published: August 24, 2018 1:01:33
One player has begun to cry. Another is sitting on the floor and scratching his head. In the neighborhood a muscular defender grinds his teeth with anger. In the corner captain Ajay Thakur is quietly connected with his head – he has not changed his posture for a minute or so, which probably feels like a life to him. Together they all stare at nothing.
This is the image of the 12 men who are part of the Indian men kabaddi team at the Asian Games. This is the image of the players after an unexpected 27-18 loss for Iran in the semi-finals. This is the image they will leave at the Asian Games, after 28 years of dominance.
The image of fallen heroes.
On the other side of the field, the wrestler-turned-kabaddi players from Iran dance to the sound of victory. It is a synchronized effort, just like the tackles they did to the much hyped Indian raiders during the duration of the game.
"The thing about Iran," assistant coach Srinivas Reddy had told The Indian Express in June, "they have very strong defenders, but are weak while raiding India is an all-round team."
There was nothing wrong with that statement. The arrival of Kabaddi's most glamorous competition, the Pro Kabaddi League, has put every Indian player in the spotlight. Every defender is an impenetrable force, every raider can squeeze through the smallest hole in a mangle of piling. Individually these are all well-known names, four of them belong to the first six crorepatis of the sport. They are all superstars.
But together they could not deliver an all-star performance that the Kabaddi & # 39; Dream Teams & # 39; was worthy and won seven consecutive gold medals since the sport was introduced at the Asian Games in 1990.
In retrospect, however, the debacle was on the card.
At the last Asian Games in 2014, held just weeks after the inaugural season of the PKL had made the selected boys of the sports department, the gold medal was conquered with a slim and nervous two-point win over Iran. India & # 39; s skipper at the time, Rakesh Kumar called it a match that India should not have won.
Four years later, in the Garuda Theater in Jakarta, the shock came.
No longer is India the undisputed champion of a game that has its origins in the country. South Korea and Iran both took care of this by defeating the powerhouse and will now take part in the final – a place that the Indians took for granted.
Thakur had warned a few months ago that self-esteem was invading the team. It got the upper hand when they lost their opening match at the 2016 World Cup in Ahmedabad against the Koreans. And there was a hint of that bullishness when the team for the Asian Games was announced.
Two months ago, at the Kabaddi Masters Dubai, an event developed and stepped up to demonstrate the power and superiority of the country on the world stage, India entered with a team that, with the exception of two changes, went on to play in Jakarta.
The Iranians, in their turn, had hit hard the shock-defeat of Pakistan last November at the Asian Championships. So for Dubai, Iranian coach Gholamreza Mazandarani brought in nine new players and dropped captains Fazel Atrachali, Abozar Mighani and Mairaj Sheykh (the third did not reach the Asian Games team).
For Mazandarani, the fair tournament would help them prepare for Jakarta. "We will catch a glimpse of the other teams, what their strategies are, what they can do, and build our own strategy against other teams," he said.
Crucially, India did not change its squadron from Dubai or shook it – there was no innovation. There was also no balance between experienced players and new legs. Except for Thakur, none of the other stars in the team had previously played Asian games and none of them knew about the pressure of performance in the sport's biggest event.
In the evening, India lost its first ever game at the Asian Games, the Iranians had done their homework. India & # 39; s star raiders were tormented by the defenders of Iran – captain Atrachali was not tapped at all. Instead, Rishank Devadiga, Pardeep Narwhal, Monu Goyat, Deepak Hooda and Thakur were themselves toothless attacks.
At home these are all familiar names, faces that are now unknown in just small portions of the country. These are the players who have lit PKL games time and time again.
These hubris and standards went wrong when it mattered most, during the Asian Games.
In another era of another sport, the United States has put an untouchable claim on basketball. It was a homegrown sport that dominated the Americans during the Olympics, from basketball's first appearance at the 1936 Olympics to the seventh in 1968. No one could touch them. In the eighth attempt the Soviet Union won gold, albeit in controversial circumstances.
A few generations later India forced its own inland kabaddi to the continental area. The domination lasted seven times again. But for the defeat during the eighth event, the Indians only have the blame.
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