If there has been any sport where India has been an unstoppable force at the world stage over the past two decades, it has been kabaddi.
In the three Kabaddi World Cups held so far, India has won the title every single time. The same statistic holds well in the seven editions of the Asian Games too.
Such has been the India’s dominance in the sport that there is little doubt over who would be the firm favourites in the six-nation Kabaddi Masters that gets underway in Dubai on Friday.
Asian giants Iran, Pakistan, and South Korea, newcomers Kenya, and Argentina are the other five teams that will be vying for the top prize on 30 June after eight days of grueling kabaddi action.
Newly-appointed coach Srinivas Reddy in an interview to Firstpost called Kabaddi Masters a semi-final of sorts to the Asian Games and has not held back any punches and fielded a top notch side for the Kabaddi Masters.
The Indian team captained by Ajay Thakur boasts of superstar names in all departments.
While Ajay will clearly be the spearhead in the raiding department, he will be ably backed by five other top-class raiders — Pardeep Narwal, Rahul Chaudhari, Rohit Kumar, Rishank Devadiga and Monu Goyat.
With each of them being proven match-winners, it will be a selection headache for the team management to pick the right combination for the nine-day tournament.
Reddy had earlier said that this dilemma was a pleasant one as it keeps the players on their toes and ensures there is no sense of complacency among the players.
This sense of competition could bode well for the Indian team that has some of the costliest buys in the recently concluded Pro Kabaddi League auctions. Four players — Monu, Rahul, Rishank and Deepak Niwas Hooda— made headlines after joining the ‘Crorepati Club’.
The fight for a place in the starting line-up would ensure the young players are grounded.
While the raiding department seems to be in order, it is of little doubt that Reddy will look to the experienced duo of Surender Nada and Mohit Chhillar to take care of the Indian defence.
With Surjeet Singh also in the ranks, the defence is expected to work like clockwork considering the fact that while Surender and Mohit operated in tandem for the Haryana Steelers in the previous season of the PKL, Surjeet led from the front to take his team Bengal Warriors to the final stages of PKL 2017.
The other member of the ‘Crorepati’ club Deepak Hooda looks to be a clear choice for the all-rounder spot and the strength in the raiding department could push him to a more defensive role at the Kabaddi Masters.
Even though he plied his wares more as a raider as the captain of the Puneri Paltan side in the previous edition of the PKL, Deepak would be expected to take over the right cover position during the course of the tournament.
However, the growing stature of Deepak might push the experienced Manjeet Chhillar out of the starting line-up.
Reddy had said in an interview to Firstpost that the injury-prone Manjeet has been specially monitored during the three-month long training camp in Sonepat to ensure that his technique is honed while the focus continues to be on his fitness and get him match-ready.
The presence of Manjeet and Girish Ernak in the squad also provides Reddy with the opportunity of going with a defence-heavy side depending on the strategy devised for a particular opponent.
The other all-rounder in the squad Sandeep Narwal is yet another proven talent that emphasises the pleasant conundrum about how the bench strength of the Indian team will be as good as their playing seven.
India will begin their campaign in the six-nation tournament on Friday with the clash against old rivals Pakistan.
The rivalry is heavily skewed in India’s favour and the Ajay Thakur-led side would look to keep it that way when the two sides meet at the Al Wasl Sports Club, Dubai.
With the Asian Games following close on the heels of the Kabaddi Masters, the Indian captain believes the tournament will give enough time for finding out and rectifying mistakes ahead of the premier event in Indonesia.
However, for now, all eyes are on the six teams that will fight it out over the next nine days and India, with a balanced side that has both experience and youth, clearly start as the overwhelming favourite.
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Updated Date: Jun 22, 2018 20:57:10 IST