Dubai: India versus Pakistan is a clash that attracts plenty of fanfare irrespective of the sport. The rivalry in kabaddi may not be as evenly-fought as compared to sports like cricket and hockey, but that barely robs it of its significance.
In the context of the sport, India’s match against Pakistan has always been the clash between kabaddi’s ultimate international powerhouses until Iran emerged as a genuine threat to this duopoly in the past decade.
However, Pakistan’s victory over Iran in the 2017 Asian Kabaddi Championship reinstated them as India’s strongest rivals in the sport, making their game against the reigning world champions — the curtain raiser of the Kabaddi Masters Dubai — a mouth-watering prospect.
Pakistan, for all their exploits at the Asian Kabaddi Championship, head into the Kabaddi Masters clash as underdogs. On mat, Pakistan have just one win over India in their history. That came way back in 1993 South Asian Games final when India had to settle for a silver medal as Pakistan grabbed gold.
The solitary victory is sandwiched by decades of Indian dominance that Pakistan have struggled break. The Kabaddi Masters Dubai offers them a chance to breathe new life in this lopsided rivalry.
Pakistan captain Nasir Ali, a 34-year-old veteran, has been at the receiving end of India’s might on a few occasions in his long career. But the advent of the Super Kabaddi League — Pakistan’s very own franchise-based kabaddi league — has boosted their ranks with handful of talented youngsters that Ali believes have the calibre to stand up to their Indian counterparts.
“We are a balanced side. We have strong defence. In our attack too, some fine youngsters have been brought in from the Super Kabaddi League (SKL) which has added to its strength. Most of our experienced players have been playing against India for the last ten to 15 years and I hope it will be a good tournament for us,” the captain said.
The group stage will have two rounds of matches before conclusion. Ali believes that it will work in Pakistan’s favour as it will enable them to play without the pressure that comes with a knockout game.
“As there is a second chance, our players can play without pressure. We will put everything in those India-Pakistan clashes and our aim is to win both and finish as group winners,” he asserted.
India, under coach Srinivas Reddy, are a vibrant bunch of young players. However, there is no shortage of experience either as most of the members of the Indian squad have featured in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) since the onset.
“We are prepared with an extremely balanced squad, keeping our defence and offence equally strong. We have a total of 14 players, the 7 waiting on the bench are as good as the 7 who will be on the mat. So we are truly prepared,” coach Reddy assured on Thursday.
Captain Ajay Thakur who will lead India in the second major international tournament, was quick to highlight the significance of the India-Pakistan clash but played down talks of an upset.
“When India play Pakistan, the entire country’s focus is on you, so it obviously adds an extra pressure. But we have faced it in the past. We played them in the Asian Kabaddi Championship in Iran and beat them twice. So we are confident in our abilities,” Thakur said.
Thakur is expected to spearhead India’s raiding department. The world champions have a massive selection headache for the remaining two raiding positions with the presence of five more world-class raiders in their ranks. Pardeep Narwal and Rahul Chaudhari are expected to get the nod ahead of Rishank Devadiga, Monu Goyat who recently became the costliest player in sport’s history and Rohit Kumar.
In defence, Reddy is likely to stick with the combination of Surender Nada and Mohit Chhillar at the corners, with Surjeet occupying the cover spot. Deepak Niwas Hooda’s growing reputation as a top all-rounder is set to keep Manjeet Chhillar on the bench. Hooda though will be primarily used as a defensive player as he would occupy the right cover position.
India will have the option to switch to a more defensive option in Manjeet if the situation demands.
Chaudhari, who has the most points in PKL’s brief history, hasn’t had the best of times in an Indian shirt in the past. With the likes of Goyat and Devadiga hot on his heels, Chaudhari might finally be able to deliver the goods in India colours.
Energetic all-rounder Sandeep Narwal also offers Reddy a very good option across the defensive positions.
For Pakistan, the defensive combination of Nasir Ali and Waseem Sajjad will hold the key to their chances. Together, the duo has over 25 years of experience enabling them to lead their defensive play effectively.
India’s Manjeet, who has plenty of experience of facing Pakistan, earmarked the duo as the prime obstacle that India will have to overcome to prolong their dominance over Pakistan.
“Nasir and Wasim have been around for a while. They are very good players and their combination at the two corners is excellent. But we have the best raiders in this competition. I have advised our raiders to treat every raid as a do-or-die raid and not allow their defence to settle,” Manjeet told Firstpost.
India were shocked by South Korea in the opening game of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup, and the reigning world and Asian champions would be keen to avoid a repeat of the disastrous start at the Kabaddi Masters in Dubai, especially against arch-rivals Pakistan.
India would aim to add more misery on Pakistan when they take on their neighbours in the Kabaddi Masters opener on Friday, but Pakistan’s new-found guile will hope to make this rivalry a more even and intense affair.
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Updated Date: Jun 22, 2018 11:02:13 IST