India’s unhindered supremacy in the Asian Games’ kabaddi competition continued after both the men’s and women’s teams successfully defended their respective gold medals with hard-fought final triumphs over Iran in Incheon on Friday.
Staging a fantastic second-half recovery, Indian men surged to their seventh straight gold by defeating Iran 27-25 in a thrilling final at the Songdo University Gymnasium. India thus completed a golden double on the kabaddi mat for the second successive edition after the women defeated the same nation 31-21 in their final held earlier in the day.
The country thus boosted its overall gold tally to 11 on the final day of competitions in Incheon. But it was touch and go for the Indian men, who have won the gold medal with ease on the six previous occasions since kabaddi was introduced in the 1990 Games at Beijing. They played catch-up with Iran for most part of the game before drawing level with the last seven minutes of the 40-minute match left.
The winners were trailing by a big margin of 13-21 at half time and a huge upset was on the cards before the defending champions pulled it around in the second half with some aggressive raiding and smart catching. 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 after the game, “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 also said at half time, the strategy chalked out was to pack off Iran quickly for a ‘lona’ — with only four players of the rivals left as compared to their own five — at that stage and come back into the game.
“That’s what we did. Had we fallen even further behind then, it would have been curtains,” he conceded.
India started on the wrong foot against the super-fit Iranians who looked like men possessed as they raided with gusto and defended with zeal to jump to a 17-7 lead before the Indians, who even conceded a ‘lona’ (after being all out), knew what happened.
Experienced raider Jasvir Singh appeared to be a bit overconfident and paid the penalty for that as he was packed off when raiding thrice in the initial stages. It was left to India’s most experienced player Anup Kumar to pull in three points with a good raid and narrow the lead.
With five minutes left for the end of the opening half, India trailed 11-18 which became 13-21 before the first half ended. The crucial turnaround happened soon after the start of the second half when India secured a ‘lona’ and then caught up with their rivals at 21-all.
They, however, slipped down to 21-24 before staging another recovery to catch up at 24-all when seven minutes were left. Anup raided to secure a valuable point to help India lead 25-24, the first time they had done in the entire match.
They added one more when Iranian’s fast raider Meraj Sheykh was caught and though Anup failed in his next raid, Meraj was again caught just as the clock ticked to full time with India ahead by two points.
Earlier, Indian women too staged a strong second half performance to get the better of a fighting Iran 31-21 to retain the gold.
The Indian women led 15-11 at the halfway stage of the 30-minute final but then put up a determined show in the second half to maintain their supremacy for the second edition running, having clinched gold when the event made its debut four years ago in Guangzhou.
They, in fact, had only a two-point lead at 12-10 soon after securing the first of their two lonas (all outs) in the gold medal contest against the fitter-looking Iranian women who played with head scarves and leggings.
Abhilasha Mhatre then effected a crucial raid to not only get back two points for her side but also revive two players who had been packed off by Iran’s aggressive raider Khalaj Ghazal.