This was more like the world-beaters India were expected to be at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup, and it required some waking up by a spirited South Korean side to get the champions to play like one. Coming out on the court to face debutant Australia, the pride of the two-time world champions was hurt. They had something to prove to the world, which wasn't the case in their opening encounter against South Korea.
The men in blue wasted no time in getting out of the blocks and raced to a 10-0 lead within the first five minutes. That was the kind of head start that India failed to get against Korea and allowed them to grow into the game. But more importantly, it was India's body language that was much better at the start. Against Korea, Anup Kumar's men were guilty of being too subdued and failed to stamp their class on the opponents, but against Australia, the very first point of the game showed India meant business, serious business.
In kabaddi terms, it was a regular dash from the opposite corner defender, but the way Sandeep Narwal charged at the Australian captain and left a strong dash onto him, gave a very strong signal to their opponents. It was a piece of strong, tough and hard kabaddi from Sandeep and the tone was set. India went hard at the Aussies and killed the game as a contest in the first five minutes.
What followed was India doing the basics right and cashing in on the mistakes made by their opponent, who was clearly rattled by India's aggression.
Unlike Rahul Chaudhari and Jasvir Singh, Pardeep Narwal and Deepak Hooda who came into the Indian side at their expense, constantly picked up points, allowing Anup Kumar to take a back seat from raiding and keep the team in control. That was exactly what Anup has to do for India, and against Australia he got that chance.
However the biggest positive for India once again was Manjeet Chhillar. The all-rounder who was playing at the left cover position was immaculate with the timing of his tackles as he picked up another high five. One more aspect that was encouraging to see was Manjeet's partnership with Deepak Hooda in defense. The pair functioned extremely well in a chain and almost trapped every Australian raider that went a bit deep attacking India's right corner. It was like watching an action replay as the Aussies fell pray to the Manjeet-Deepak combo in the Indian defense time and again.
But, there was no such cohesion seen elsewhere in the Indian defense. Once again the hosts' corner defenders weren't at their best and scored a paltry three tackle points between them. Their right cover defender Surjeet too scored only two tackle points and India's overall tally of 10 tackle points didn't make very impressive reading. Interestingly, India didn't score a single tackle point in the entire second half. While the champions took the foot off the peddle post the interval and substituted their main defenders like Manjeet, scoring no tackle points against a team like Australia in an entire half will surely worry coach Balwant Singh.
Dharmaraj Cheralathan, who played at the left corner position scored just one tackle point as the home side gave away eight bonus points in the match. A tally that the Anup Kumar-led outfit will look to significantly reduce when they face teams like Iran further in the competition.
In the first five minutes, when India's score was still in single digits, an Australian raider nearly escaped through a broken chain in the Indian defense, only for a timely waist hold from Deepak Hooda managed to stop him in his tracks. That could easily have been a super raid for a better raider and the game could have been in the balance.
Perhaps it's time for India to give Surender Nada a chance at the left corner position. The reputation of his deadly ankle-holds will make the opposition raiders think twice before attempting a bonus point. It's this doubt that could work aid the Indian defense. The Bangladeshi raiders showed on Saturday against England that they shouldn't be taken lightly, and with their tendency to sneak bonus points, Surender Nada could well be the man that India need at their disposal. Having dropped him to the bench, India could give Mohit Chhillar another chance at his favoured right corner position and put Sandeep Narwal to the right cover position where he can bring his aggression and strength into play just like how Manjeet has been doing so successfully so far this World Cup.
Selecting Pardeep and Deepak over Rahul and Jasvir has proved to be a correct call, thanks to the great run of form the two young raiders are in. Also in contention could be Ajay Thakur, who has done all that he could in the limited chances he has been given so far.
The dominant win over Australia was great, but India will have tougher challenges ahead and Bangladesh, their next opponents, will surely be a threat. While Balwant Singh's men remain favourites to lift the World Cup on 22 October, they will have to find their best defensive combination that had the ability to hunt in packs. Individual brilliance may do the trick for India in the group stages, but a lack of defensive cohesion may come to haunt them in the semifinal or beyond.