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Asian Games 2018: Amit Panghal portrays uncanny ringcraft to win gold; Indian hockey team ends campaign on a high

You needed to brace yourself up for Saturday evening, one in which you believed you would have to drag yourself to the hockey pitch to watch a push-back two and a half hours before you would have liked. It was a bronze medal match, after all. And the only magnetic quality the playoff had was that it would feature two teams that have a history of rivalry, India and Pakistan.

For Indians, especially the players, it was a challenge to pick themselves up after a disappointing time in the semi-finals. Besides having to tell themselves to beat Pakistan, perhaps in a worse mindset after its loss to Japan in the other semi-final, the Indians found motivation when India’s medal tally received a shot in the arm.

 Asian Games 2018: Amit Panghal portrays uncanny ringcraft to win gold; Indian hockey team ends campaign on a high

India's Amit Panghal beats reigning Olympic champion to win gold medal in men's 49kg weight category. AP

The men’s hockey team stepped on the pitch for their last match in the Asian Games two and a half hours before they would have liked to. But it was a price to pay for missing out on penalty corner conversions and for letting Malaysia find an equaliser with less than two minutes to play in the semi-finals.

The atmosphere was not what you would associate a high-voltage match between India and Pakistan. But coach Harendra Singh had done well to prepare his team, advising it to use a lot of aerial balls to surprise Pakistan, coached by the redoubtable Roelant Oltmans. Even in disappointingly winning bronze, the team found satisfaction in outplaying Pakistan mentally.

India took the lead within three minutes when Akashdeep Sing slotted home, but it was not until the start of the fourth quarter that it found the mark a second time. Harmanpreet Singh converted the first of two penalty corners. Pakistan came back with a goal by Mohammed Atiq off a counter-attack with around nine minutes left. India, which started the tournament as defending champion, held on to win its second men’s hockey bronze in three editions.

What can prepare you for the Indian men’s hockey taking a bronze medal home from the Asian Games? Well before the 2-1 victory over Pakistan in the play-off that was played in a tepid atmosphere in the GBK Hockey Field in Saturday, boxer Amit Panghal, Army JCO from Rohtak, gave all Indians a high to float in with a victory over the Olympic champion.

The 22-year-old from Rohtak, who learnt his ropes at coach Anil Dhankar’s academy in Gurugram’s Sector 39, played smart to defeat Hasanboy Dusmatov (Uzbekistan) with a second successive split verdict in as many days to finish as India’s 15th gold medalist in the Asian Games Jakarta Palembang.

It was sweet revenge for Amit Panghal who lost to the Uzbek in the World Championship in Hamburg the same day last year. The Armyman also overcame disappointment of getting only silver in the Commonwealth Games, losing to Galal Yafai (England). He was injured during that bout and those in charge of his rehabilitation and recovery got him fighting fit.

With Vikas Krishan Yadav being advised not to fight his semi-final and settle for a bronze medal in the 75kg class, Panghal had the responsibility of having the National Anthem being played in the boxing hall at the JI Expo at least once. The rest of the Indian boxing squad went out either in the quarter-final stage or, in one case, sooner.

His determination to make amends for the Commonwealth Games loss bore him rewards as he fought with uncanny ringcraft in the final. He knew he could not let the Olympic champion take the early upperhand and worked hard to score in the first round. With Dusmatov having to play catch up, Panghal just had to stay out of harm’s way to gain his dream victory.

In fact, his strategy of waiting for the Uzbek to lunge into attack in the third round paid dividends as he was able to score with some quick counter-attacking punches against a tiring fighter.

He only doubly secured that feeling after Pranab Bardhan and Shibnath Sarkar rallied to win the men’s pair Bridge gold medal with a total of 385 points from 55 boards. The pair, whose combined age is 116 years, was fifth in qualifying and fifth in the semifinals as well. It’s luck and quality of play turned upwards in Final 1 on Friday (285 points from 30 hands) and on Saturday.

The women’s squash team gave itself a shot at the gold medal by upstaging Malaysia in the semi-finals but was unable to find a rhythm that could help it turn the tables on Hong Kong. The 19-year-old Sunayna Kuruvilla, who fetched India its only point in the 1-2 defeat by Hong Kong in the Group B league, went down in four games to Tze Lok Ho.

Joshna Chinappa, the toast of India’s victory over Malaysia with a 3-2 win against superstar Nicol David in the semi-finals, lost in straight games inside half an hour to Wing Chi Annie Au to end the team’s aspirations. India has silver medal in the women’s team championship to add to the three bronze medals it claimed in the sport.

The curtain came down on India’s campaign with 10m platform diver Siddharth Pardeshi as its last competitor on view. He had qualified for the 10-diver final in ninth place with 376.20 points and he seemed unlikely to challenge the Chinese and the Koreans for the medals. Similarly, the judo mixed team had an outside chance of a medal but was beaten by Korea 4-0.

India’s 15 gold, 24 silver and 30 bronze medals gave it 69 medals in all and placed it eighth on the table, both by gold and by total. The 15 gold-haul matched the 1951 record as the best in an Asian Games while the overall tally is the highest garnered in the 18-edition history of the quadrennial festival of sport in the continent, passing the 65 won eight years ago in Guangzhou.

There were heartbreaks. Two-time Olympic medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar and India’s first woman grappler with an Olympic medal Sakshi Malik, the men’s kabaddi team’s semi-final defeat, Indian hockey teams finishing away from the Olympic Games slots available in Jakarta are some examples.

But there have been many some wonderful efforts by the likes of 15-year-old Saurabh Chaudhury to 60-year-old Pranab Bardhan, from amateurs to professionals, from the vastly experienced to the rookies across a variety of disciplines that will make the Indian fan look at the Games with some satisfaction and much pride.

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Updated Date: Sep 01, 2018 21:39:45 IST