Ajay Thakur masterminded a memorable triumph against a spirited Iran with a terrific exhibition of raiding in the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup final at the Arena by TransStadia here on Saturday. Outwitted in the first half by rival skipper Meraj Sheykh’s versatile display — he fetched points by kicking with his right leg and stretching his right hand at the opponent — and down 13-18 at half time, India took charge of the final in the second half with Thakur’s sleek raiding skills earning super raid points. Once Thakur won a hand-touch point against Sheykh, India took the lead for the second time in the match and then proceeded to dominate and win 38-29.
Pardeep Narwal, India’s second most successful raider in the league stage, was off-color. Still, substitute Nitin Tomar rose to the occasion, winning super raid points sent out Sheykh Fazel Atrachali at a critical juncture. Eventually, Surjeet’s leg-lock on Sheykh reflected India’s control of the match against an opponent that depended largely on Sheykh and Atrachali, both ProKabaddi League professionals.
It was the third clash between India and Iran in a World Cup final — the previous two were held in 2004 and 2007 in Mumbai, and on both occasions, India triumphed. With the third World Cup being staged after four editions of the ProKabaddi League, there was a lot of hype and hoopla around the event, and there was immense pressure on Anup Kumar’s team to win the title a third time. His team lost the opening league match to the Republic of Korea but hit back strongly in the remaining league matches and showed remarkable composure to turn the tide against Iran in the title match.
Earlier, Sheykh did the star turn demonstrating his cunning maneuvers as a raider. Thanks to the five raid points Sheykh won in the first half, including a super raid execution, Iran led 18-13 at halftime. India took the field with Anup Kumar, Manjit Chillar, Thakur, Pradeep Narwal, Sandeep Narwal, Surjeet, and Surender Nada. After two empty raids from either side, Sandeep Narwal won the home side the first point with a hand touch.
Thakur made it 2-0, but very soon, Iran showed its class by cleverly playing lobby to earn two bonus points and a raid point when Meraj won a team review for a hand touch on Sandeep Narwal. Returning to action, Sandeep Narwal won the first tackle point for India. Still, soon the Iranian skipper’s electrifying display took center-stage as he put his side ahead by six points at the interval. Fazel Atrachali excelled in defense, and four other players earned tackle points.
But eventually, India showed its wherewithal in a sport it has dominated since the 1990 Asian Games.
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