Yes, you read it right. Landslide victories haven't been strangers to the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup, but India's 54-point win over Argentina was still quite the exception. The biggest margin of victory in the tournament, was also one where the most tackle points were scored by a team. The tally of 24 tackle points is impressive, but the ruthlessness with which the hosts disposed off the Argentine raiders on Saturday was quite significant.
It started from the first minute. Surjeet, India's cover defender who rose to prominence in the two latest editions of the Pro Kabaddi League, had a low key World Cup till he tackled Argentina's Mariano Pascual. A strong block halted Pascual's attempted retreat at the very spot of the tackle and the man from the Services set the tone for himself and his team.
Within no time Argentina suffered an all-out and Surjeet had racked up five points in his first five tackles. That was perhaps the quickest high five in the competition and the Argentine raiders had their nerves jiggling. The 26-year-old hadn't fired all cylinders before Saturday and it was only through the Manjeet Chhillar that India were consistently getting points from it's cover defenders. Surjeet had shown glimpses of mirroring Manjeet's performance in the previous matches, but only managed to do so successfully against Argentina.
An in-form Manjeet-Surjeet combination in the cover positions could be crucial for India with the corner defenders still not able to score points in a heap.
Talking of the corners, Sandeep Narwal and Dharmaraj Cheralathan scored just two tackle points out of the 24 that India scored. However Surender Nada, who came in place of Cheralathan in the second half, notched up seven tackle points alone. This performance followed a high five in his last appearance. It would be very tough for coach Balwant Singh to look beyond Surender for the next match against England. His ability to produce lethal ankle-holds coupled with excellent form would give India the necessary bite required at the left corner position.
However, the star of the home side's World Cup campaign so far has been Ajay Thakur. The Himachal Pradesh raider's quality and pedigree was undoubted, but his recent form meant there were a few raised eyebrows when the 30-year-old was selected in the final squad. But Thakur has rolled back the years and repaid his coach's faith in style. He is now the World Cup's third most successful raider with 30 raid points and India's most potent weapon in the raiding department.
Gifted with a long reach, Thakur has an advantage that he's used to great effect, but it's the raider's sharp turns, quick changes in directions and swift retreats that have turned him into an almost unplayable raider. He looks like the Ajay Thakur of old and kabaddi fans from yesteryear will tell you how fatal it could prove to be for India's future opponents.
The Argentina game also saw the return of the poster boy, Rahul Chaudhari. Coming into the tournament as India's chief raider, after a sluggish performance against South Korea he was forced to make way for Pardeep Narwal. But with Pardeep having bit of an off day on Saturday, Rahul got a chance and grabbed it with both hands. After replacing Thakur in the second half, Rahul was unstoppable. He raided points away from the Argentines at will and bagged a super ten within no time.
Ending the game with 11 raid points seemed much more like Rahul Chaudhari, but it was the ease with which he scored them that was of particular significance for the Anup Kumar-led outfit. Fans of Rahul Chaudhari will tell you that when he's on song, empty raids go out of the game. The 23-year-old tries to score points in every raid irrespective of how the game is poised and that's how he enjoys his game. Against Argentina, Rahul was raiding with a smile on his face and that could be enough to drive the smiles away from the faces of England and Iran, who will be India's most immediate opponents.
Meraj Sheykh, Iran's captain who spent three seasons with Rahul at the Telugu Titans would know best the dangers an in-form Rahul Chaudhari poses.
But for coach Balwant Singh it was yet another box ticked, yet another key man back in form and yet another step towards assembling a ruthlessly efficient winning machine that could take the world by storm come the semifinals.
India have become better with every passing game since being shocked by South Korea and have learnt to take every game seriously. With all the complacency thrown out of the window after the opening day upset, the defending champions handed Argentina a kabaddi lesson that was watched on by their potential semifinal opponents Iran who could be pardoned for feeling a bit nervous, if not a tad scared.
First Published On : Oct 16, 2016 10:18 IST