The Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India announced the Indian men’s and women’s kabaddi teams for the upcoming Asian Games in Jakarta when they uploaded images of the team sheets on their official website earlier this week.
The selection, especially of the men’s team that won the gold medal at the recently-concluded Kabaddi Masters in Dubai, raised a few eyebrows.
Surjeet Singh, the right cover defender who started in all the important games for India including the semi-final and final of the Dubai event was excluded from the squad for the Asian Games. Other prominent names that were missing from the final team are left corner defender Surender Nada and all-rounder Manjeet Chhillar.
Nada was restricted to a fringe role in the team at the Kabaddi Masters after Girish Maruti Ernak grabbed the opportunity presented to him by coach Srinivas Reddy. Ernak scored 19 points in the four games he played at left corner in Dubai and was particularly impressive in India’s triumph over Pakistan in the league phase and against South Korea in the semi-final, scoring 12 points in those games.
Manjeet, who is Pro Kabaddi League’s (PKL) highest scoring defender, has been struggling with injuries in the last two PKL seasons. He only managed to attract a base price of Rs 20 lakh in recently-concluded PKL auctions where he was seconds away from being unsold in the first round. Even in Dubai, where the all-rounder was making a comeback to the national side after being dropped from India’s Asian Kabaddi Championship team, Manjeet managed just a cameo appearance in the second half of the game against Kenya that was all but wrapped up by the time he entered the mat.
So his exclusion from the 12-member Asian Games squad barely comes as a surprise especially considering India had opted to enter the Kabaddi Masters with a 14-man team. The selection committee that includes national coach Balwan Singh, and other prominent coaches like Ram Mehar Singh, Rambir Singh Khokar and Srinivas Reddy in consultation with the federation have opted to go to Jakarta with just three frontline defenders: Ernak (left corner), Mohit Chhillar (right corner) and Raju Lal Choudhary (right corner). It means that India will field a team in Jakarta without a pure cover defender and will rely on all-rounders to fill the position.
Deepak Niwas Hooda, who played at the left cover in Dubai is expected to continue in that role, while Sandeep Narwal, who has the experience of playing in all defensive positions, is likely to take up the right cover role. India have six out-and-out raiders in their ranks and similar to the case at the Dubai Masters, the world champions are banking on their raiding might to bag another Asian Games gold in 2018.
According to sources close to the federation, the committee was keen on having more all-rounders in the side to provide the team with more flexibility. In Dubai, India adopted a similar strategy and used their raiding might to good effect. Opposition teams often struggled to contain a three-pronged Indian attack and the world champions were able to cruise through matches without being put under any kind of pressure.
Ajay Thakur is expected to lead the side, but it is still unclear, who will coach the men’s team. Reddy was assigned the role for the Kabaddi Masters, but Rambir Singh Khokar, who led the team in the Asian Kabaddi Championship and is more experienced compared to Reddy, may be favoured for the Jakarta event.
India will be chasing their seventh successive gold medal at the Games and will be in action in the fourth week of August.
While, the women’s team will be eyeing a third straight gold in kabaddi at the Asian Games, also had a few surprise exclusions. Abhilasha Mhatre who captained the side at the Asian Kabaddi Championship in Iran in November has not been selected.
There are six new faces in the team for Jakarta. Sonali Shingate, Sayali KeriPale, Shalini Pathak, Usha Rani Narsimhala and Madhu have been introduced and were not a part of the squad that won gold in Iran.
Sakshi Kumari, Kavita Devi, Priyanka, Manpreet Kaur, Payel Chowdhury, Ritu Negi and Randeep Kaur Khehra have retained their places. The announcement of the captain and coach is yet to be made, but Damayanti Boro is the most likely candidate to coach the women’s team in Jakarta.
Men’s team: Girish Maruti Ernak, Deepak Niwas Hooda, Mohit Chhillar, Sandeep Narwal, Pardeep Narwal, Rishank Devadiga, Monu Goyat, Ajay Thakur, Rohit Kumar, Raju Lal Choudhary, Mallesh Gangadhari, Rahul Chaudhari. Standby: Amit Nagar, Maninder Singh
Women’s team: Sakshi Kumari, Kavita Devi, Priyanka, Manpreet Kaur, Payel Chowdhury, Ritu Negi, Sonali Vishnu Shingate, Sayali Sanjay KeriPale, Randeep Kaur Khehra, Shalini Pathak, Usha Rani Narasimhalah, Madhu. Standby: Priyanka, Shama Parveen