On Monday night, in the curiously named ‘Kabaddi Ashes’ encounter, England raider Tope Adelwalure entered the Australian side of the court in the second minute and returned with two raid points. By the time the first half ended, he had scored a Super-10, and after his side was done trashing the Aussies 69-25, his own tally was a staggering 22 points, 20 of them coming from successful raids.
In the four days of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup in Ahmedabad so far, we have witnessed weaker teams concede points in the high 50s and 60s, exploited by established sides such as Iran which leads the chart with 57 raid points from two games. And this isn’t just a pattern in games where a minnow is playing a strong side; in the Poland versus Kenya tussle, there were barely any empty raids and the final score read 54-48 in favour of the Africans.
So have the raiders shown extraordinary escaping, jumping or dupki skills? Nope, it’s the other department – defence – that most of these teams haven’t cracked. In this international format of kabaddi, the same as in Pro Kabaddi League, good defence is the key to victory. It takes much more than two months of learning correct techniques to build a defensive unit that works.
Open secrets to clockwork defence
For the right and left corner defenders of the seven-a-side game, super-fast reflexes and iron forearms aren’t enough, they require excellent co-ordination with each other to attack together at the same split-second. This connect develops only with practice, experience and off-court bonding. Think Fazel Atrachali, Ravinder Pahal, Mohit Chhillar and Surender Nada.
The cover defenders, who often guard the all-important raider of the team in-between them, carry out the task to lure the raider in, so their corners can attack. They must do this with critical timing, utmost balance and the ability to form a chain tackle. Think Sandeep Narwal, Manjeet Chhillar or Jeeva Kumar, who have played invaluable cover roles for their PKL teams.
The ‘left in’ and ‘right in’ boys, usually top raiders, must have enough brawn and core muscle to ensure this defensive ring works like a well-oiled machine, or to borrow a Narcos term, an established cartel. Think Anup Kumar, Shabeer Bapu or Rohit Kumar.
Why PKL-4 did not see high scores
As all our points of reference are from Pro Kabaddi League for obvious reasons, here’s another. As the last season witnessed a shuffle of players across teams, the sides became unprecedentedly balanced and hence stronger on defence. Even brilliant raiders such as Anup Kumar and Kashiling Adake ran into defensive walls and the season commonly witnessed scores between 20 and 30, with only six out of 60 games having a score over 40 points!
Season two champions U Mumba, who owe their 2015 trophy to their impregnable defenders, struggled in season four for lack of consistent defenders and were eventually booted before the knockouts. The deal then, is simple – better the team, stronger the defence, so for the World Cup, feel free to judge all those teams which leak 40-50 points, even if they are themselves scoring as many. After all, this is a sport where stepping on someone’s toes and darting away is easy (and not impolite) and conspiring to pull down a man and crushing him under your weight is tougher (and not rude either).
Way forward for non-Asian teams
Like German football, Kiwi rugby or Gulzar’s poetry, kabaddi’s defensive moves are pleasing to the senses, but tough to construct. Teams such as USA, Australia and Poland, though not short on muscle, will only get better with more matches together and mindful efforts to get their defensive combinations right. But for boys who have Googled ‘kabaddi’ for the first time as recently as two months back, it would be tough. Last night, there were many occasions when the Aussies (a team filled with former Footy League players) had three defenders left but as two of them did not hold hands to try for a Super Tackle, the raiders robbed easy points and inflicted all-outs.
If these teams return to their rugby/footie/professional lives after the World Cup and only practice two months prior to the next, they won’t move too forward. If they watch and learn from Mohit Chhillar and Surender Nada clips from PKL 2, however, there is scope.
For now, we hope the coaches tell them one simple thing – raiders can win you games, but defenders win you championships.