India proves too good

A.VINOD

THE game kabaddi has its roots in the rural environs of the sub-continent. Though it has been part and parcel of the last three Asian Games, it evoked curiosity among the public in Busan. The proceedings at the Tongmyong University Stadium were gone through on the new surface, according to the latest rule of the Asian Kabaddi Federation. The events were held on a synthetic surface court.

The triumphant Indian team. This was India's fourth consecutive gold in the Asian Games.-V. SUDERSHAN

But then, the Indians had come well-prepared, having trained themselves on the new surface for almost two months or more at the SAI Centre in Gandhinagar. And in the end, they had very little to do before justifying their top billing and ensuring a fourth consecutive gold for their home country. India was unbeaten in the six-team league with easy victories over its rivals, the icing on the cake being the resounding win over arch-rival Pakistan in the final encounter.

The Indian team sported a blend of youth and experience. Sanjeev Kumar, Samsher Singh and Ramesh Kumar were three good raiders and in B. C. Ramesh, K. K. Jagdisha, Manpreet Singh and Ram Mehar Singh the team had a sound defence, playing a waiting game all along to trap their rivals. And that this combine would be a hard nut to crack was evident right from the start when India opened its campaign against Malaysia.

It was an easy stroll for the Indians as the Malaysians could hardly challenge the supremacy of the champion side at any time. With Sanjeev Kumar and Samsher Singh taking turns to attack and Ramesh excelling in the defence, the Indians had four lonas in the first-half itself as they led 32-9 at half-time. And there were two lonas in the second session before the Indians closed out the match with a 47-21 margin, relaxing their grip over the proceedings through the last six minutes of play. Pitted against Japan next, the Indians were once again unstoppable as they chalked out another easy 53-21 win. This second win was again marked by six lonas, all of which came in the first-half, even as the Japanese wilted under pressure exerted by the Indian players.

The champion side, playing truly as one, had another field day against Bangladesh before winning at 37-14, enjoying again six lonas spread over two halves. The Indians, then, went on to mow down Sri Lanka 50-21 in an yet another one-sided match even though this encounter was played indoors as persistent rain threatened to spoil the penultimate day's proceedings.

The last league outing against Pakistan, expectedly, did attract attention particularly from the western media which projected the clash as a real war. Given the tense condition at the Indo-Pak. border and the continuing sharp exchange of words between the top Indian and Pakistani leadership in relation to the Kashmir issue, it was quite understandable that the conflict between the two countries, even in a sporting arena, would make a good copy.

Badala Walauwe of Sri Lanka raids the Indian camp in the league match. India was a comfortable winner. In fact, the team won all its matches.-V. SUDERSHAN

However, for those who had arrived expecting a keen contest, it was quite a disappointment as the Indians continuing on with their good show ran over their rivals in style. Perhaps, for that one incident that saw Ramesh Kumar getting himself involved in a minor scuffle with one of his rivals, there was little of fight in the whole of the match, other than the Indian supremacy. It would have made news only if the Indians had succumbed to their rivals, but Pakistan with an ageing side hardly had the strength to beat India, which won the match at 37-7, having led 23-4 at the breather.

The team coach, Udayakumar, who had predicted an easy triumph and a fourth consecutive gold for India on the eve of the tournament was again sharp with his observations: ''The fact that we would face some tough time should have come because of the introduction of the new surface. However, with the Government and SAI helping us to acquire a synthetic surface even before we started our preparations seriously, we faced no problem in Busan. In turn, it does seem it was the other teams which had come under-prepared. And having seen those teams in practice, I was always sure of our victory. The new pitch had taken away some of the charm as our style is more suited to the clay courts, but it did not hamper us."

While the competition for the gold remained a one-horse race all along, the race for the silver had several twists and turns before Bangladesh took the second spot. But only on account of its better point-average than Pakistan after the two teams had finished with an identical three-wins, two-loss record. What, in fact, made this struggle for the silver all the more interesting was Bangladesh's surprise win over Pakistan on the opening day. With only Badshah Gul of Pakistan showing some resistance, the Bangladeshis enjoyed smooth sailing before winning the tie comfortably at 44-10.

However, the race was again thrown wide open when Bangladesh surprisingly lost to Japan 15-22 in its next match. The Japanese were aggressive right from the start but could not make much headway in the first-half. The lead in their favour was slender (4-3) at the breather but on resumption, the Japanese simply pulled themselves away to a deserving victor. But Japan on the last day found itself at the receiving end against lowly Malaysia.

In more ways than one, it was the upset 14-5 win that Malaysia scored over Japan that helped Bangladesh to the silver eventually. The Bangladeshis completed their engagements with a 55-15 win over Sri Lanka and a 46-7 victory over Malaysia. Pakistan had wins over Japan (21-12), Malaysia (29-7) and Sri Lanka (20-6) before it took the bronze. Japan with two wins and three losses was fourth while Sri Lanka and Malaysia finished in that order with one win each and four losses.

For all the excitement, particularly from the locals and the media, there is little to suggest that kabaddi has caught the imagination of the rest of Asia. That the South Koreans, despite being the hosts, kept away from the fray is in itself proof of the limited reach of the game, though it has been in the Asian Games agenda for the last 12 years. Indeed, it is high time that the AKF got its act together.

It was a special occasion for four of the senior members of the Indian team - B. C. Ramesh, Sanjeev Kumar, Ram Mehar Singh and Samsher Singh. They had also figured in the Indian triumph in Bangkok four years ago.