Kabaddi debacle could have been avoided, says India’s ex-coach

According to J. Udayakumar, India had a “false sense of superiority” coming into the Games.

Taming the lion: Iran’s players celebrate a point in the semifinal against India.   -  PTI

The failure of the men’s kabaddi team to retain the gold medal was one of India’s biggest disappointments at the ongoing Asian Games in Jakarta.

India, the seven-time gold medallist, failed to enter the final for the first time in the history of the Games, losing to Iran in the semifinals. Earlier, India had lost to South Korea, suffering its first ever defeat at the Games, in the league phase.

For a nation which has dominated this sport for nearly three decades, India’s Asian Games debacle could be seen as a signal of others catching up. However, according to J. Udayakumar, coach of India’s victorious 2002, 2006 and 2014 Asian Games kabaddi teams, the defeats could have been avoided.

FULL COVERAGE - ASIAN GAMES

“The warning signs that others have caught up with us were ignored. Probably the biggest mistake we made was to field a full strength team for World Masters in Dubai a month before the Asian Games. We exposed our tactics before the world. The other teams came with second string squads to gain experience. The easy triumph gave us a false sense of superiority. I felt at the Asian Games we lacked a flexible game plan,” said Udayakumar, who worked as coaching consultant of Sri Lankan team before the Asian Games.

‘Bizarre tactics’

“I felt the players also lacked fitness and our basic preparation was wrong. It was a surprise to see our players tense in the semifinals against Iran. Our tactics were bizzare against a defensive team like Iran and questionable team selection only compounded the problems,” he said.

Read: Iran prepared for Asian Games gold extensively, says former player Bhavsar

“The selection could have been pragmatic. We should have selected players based on the strength of other teams. Iran had raiders who predominantly operated through the right corner but we didn’t have any natural right corner players in the squad to tackle that. Personally, I felt the presence of Surjith could have made a difference,” he added.

The coach, however, refused to blame the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) for the failure. He said, “PKL has made kabaddi more popular. Yes, Iranians and South Koreans benefitted from the exposure in PKL. But the current Iran team didn’t have a single player with PKL experience,” he said. “Kabaddi is fast assuming the contours of a global sport. We should learn from our mistakes and incorporate scientific methods in our training. The selection process should be transparent or else we will fall behind,” he warned.