India is playing host to yet another World Cup - the Kabaddi World Cup. It's not the first time that they has hosted this competition, in fact both the previous occasions when the World Cup was staged, it took place on the India soil. India hosted them, dominated and won and very few people came to know, many are still unaware of it.
However, after the huge success of the Pro Kabaddi League, India has warmed up to its very own sport which was lying in obscurity for the last few years. Live telecast, heavy promotion and dawn of new superstars has made it a very different build-up to the Kabaddi World Cup in 2016.
But one thing that remains unchanged since the last World Cup which happened nine years ago is India's dominance in Kabaddi. India has won almost every gold medal that's been on offer in the sport and in 2016, the Kabaddi World Cup is expected to be another Indian success story. Players and experts have called it. India will be champions again and there's almost nobody who doubts it. It may not even be arrogant for its players to come out and say it as the hosts are way too ahead of the rest of the world in terms of talent pool, training facilities, coaches and most importantly a domestic league. Only Iran have a domestic league of their own and it's no surprise that the Iranians are expected to run India close.
India's coach Balwant Singh and assistant coach Bhaskaran Edachery have loads of experience, with both of them having a Pro Kabaddi title under their belts. Their biggest challenge was to select the final fourteen from a highly talented pool of twenty six players. While exclusion of the likes of Kashiling Adake, Rishank Devadiga was surprising, India's 'Dream Team' as it has been hailed has enough ammunition to lift the trophy.
India's strength lies in the number of match-winners they possess in the squad. Every name in the fourteen is a star of his respective Pro Kabaddi League side. Be it Anup Kumar for U Mumba, Manjeet Chhillar for Puneri Paltan, Pardeep Narwal for the Patna Pirates or Rahul Chaudhari for the Telugu Titans. Even if any one of them has an off day, the team will have enough fire power to take them through. This level of quality also stretches to the bench.
With raiders like Anup Kumar, Rahul Chaudhari, Jasvir Singh, Ajay Thakur and Pardeep Narwal at the hosts' disposal, all-rounders Manjeet Chhillar, Sandeep Narwal and Deepak Niwas Hooda will solely be able to focus on defending. In addition, even if India face a threat of an all-out, and lose it's raiders, the all-rounders can then bring their raiding skills into play. It will be quite disheartening for the opposition to see someone like Manjeet Chhillar coming in to raid after after having worked hard to see the back of the India's top raiders.
Captain Anup Kumar's leadership skills will play a crucial role. In the new format, a captain has a lot of thinking to do and his decisions often determine which way the game pans out. In Anup, India have a calm and astute leader. After the first season of Pro Kabaddi League, where Anup was at his destructive best, he has played more of an anchor role for U Mumba. His aim has been to stay on the court for most parts of the forty minutes of play and control the game as much as possible. He is expected to perform a similar role which will certainly take a lot of pressure off swashbuckling raiders like Rahul Chaudhari and Pardeep Narwal, who will have the licence to express themselves.
With a great strength in depth in the squad, Balwant Singh has as they call a 'good selection headache'.
They are virtually none, at least on paper. India's biggest challenge will be to battle complacency. Coach Balwant Singh might find it slightly difficult to motivate his players for every match as the tournament progresses, especially against the sides that are making their debuts. This is where it will be key for India to rotate their squad and develop a competition for places. With the Indians facing little challenge from their opponents till the semi-final, the players will have to challenge themselves and each other to keep up a certain level of performance.
The team lacks a genuine do-or-die raid specialist. With Rishank Devadiga and Rajesh Mondal not picked in the final fourteen, India may miss a specialist in the third raid. However, Balwant Singh must be confident that his team won't be dragged into many do-or-die raids considering their superior quality.
The hosts must also be ready to handle the weight of expectations that comes with such a heavy favourites tag, especially in the knock-out stages.
Selecting India's final starting seven is going to give coach Balwant Singh some sleepless nights. However, India is likely to go with three defenders, two specialist raiders and two all-rounders. Anup and Rahul are expected to be the two raiders. In the corner positions, Surender Nada and Mohit Chhillar could start with the latter getting the nod over the impressive Sandeep Narwal for the right corner position. Anup's understanding with his former U Mumba team-mates Nada and Mohit could just see the pair start for India.
Manjeet Chhillar and veteran Dharmaraj Cheralathan could start in the two cover positions, but the serviceman Surjeet remains an option for coach Balwant Singh. In the centre Deepak Hooda's red-hot form may earn him a place in the side as an all-rounder and India's third raider. But with the embarrassment of riches that India have, it won't be surprising if the coach goes with a different set of players.
India should have no problems in navigating through the group stage, but will have to wary in the knock-out stages where the margin of error will be very less. From what we've seen of the foreign players playing in the Pro Kabaddi League, they can be brilliant on their day, but often get overwhelmed by the occasion. This is where Indians have the edge. They can keep a check on their nerves much better and thus be as brutal as 'cold-blooded killers' when they get it right.
India's greatest battle will be against themselves. As Anup said that even if India play to 80 per cent of their abilities, they will win the tournament, the challenge for the players will be to not allow their performance levels fall beyond that point. If they can do so, India will run riot at Kabaddi World Cup 2016.