More than just a tournament, the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup has been a manifestation of the metaphorical rise of an ancient Indian sport. This event has laid the foundation for the growth of a sport that has a factory of talent in India. One of those supremely gifted athletes is U Muma raider Rishank Devadiga, who missed out on a spot in the Indian team but surely has a bright future ahead of him.
Sitting on the sidelines is not an option for Devadiga. So putting the disappointment of not being selected aside, he was up and running, playing in the District Championships in Sangli, Maharashtra.
The young raider from U Mumba spoke to Sportskeeda about the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup, captain Anup Kumar and India’s chances of winning the tournament. Here are a few excerpts:
What do you think happened in India’s first match against South Korea? How did the tournament favourites end up losing?
I think the Indian team was not yet well settled and there were a lot of errors that one can attribute to that loss. The pressure of the opening match in a tournament where everyone has already called you champions sometimes gets to players. They leaked away easy bonus and raid points towards the end, especially when it came to Jang Kun Lee. I think there was a lack of cohesiveness in the defense. Also, our raiders got off to a very slow start, they should have attacked from the beginning.
While we can criticise India for its loss, you have to laud the way South Korea played. What is your opinion of the South Korean team?
The team will definitely make it to the finals and what is commendable about them is that they have raised their playing standards to an extent where they have can throw in a challenge to the mighty Indian side as well. Notably, it is not just Jang Kun Lee's exploits that they are riding on, as was evident in the their last match where Lee was rested yet they went in to win comfortably.
If we lock horns against them in the finals, it will be more than a final, it will be opportunity to seek revenge and erase the blemish of the defeat of the opening encounter, so attack will be coupled with aggression in equal measure.
Apart from India and South Korea, Iran is the obviously the stronghest contender for the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup title. What do you make of their strength as a team and how do you think the contest will pan out?
The semi-finals on Friday will virtually be akin to the final match for the Indians, if they are to face Iran, given that the two best teams in the world will playing. And if India does go on to win that match, they will easily defeat the Koreans in the finals to claim the crown. When it comes to Iranians, they totally bank on their strength and aggressiveness having a fast-paced game unlike the Indian team, which adheres more to skills in addition to strength.
So the strategy that should be effectively executed is that Indian raiders should go in and attack, gather more raid points but at the other shore have a water-tight defense, devoid the rivals of any bonus points such that the Iranians are forced to play on the do-or-die raid where you can easily tackle them.
What do you make of the Indian bench strength and squad depth?
The entire Indian squad is so strong that you can have two Indian teams of 7 players each representing the nation at the World Cup. On this note, it is great that the coaches have gone ahead with rolling substitutions in every match to ensure that every players gets a sufficient amount of match time.
This in fact adds to the advantage that each player is now mentally prepared to prove himself when he gets onto the mat for they have not just been watching the proceedings from the sidelines but in fact playing a role on the mat. The Indian team is now so well set, that they can take on any opponent and beat them.
Describe Anup Kumar as a captain. What is his importance to the team?
Having played under him, I can say that Anup Bhaisahab is the best man to lead the national side. He has been giving his cent percent and has in the process, led the charge for India, dominating all the matches after the initial glitch. He needs to continue in the very same manner, ensuring that the team plays as an unified force in the rest of the encounter, especially in the forthcoming Iran duel, which is going to be a tough one, he need to reflect his shadow of calmness on the rest of the boys.
Anup also announced that he would be retiring from international kabaddi after the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. What is the kind of legacy will he leave on Indian sport?
Anup Kumar's international retirement- In my opinion, his captaincy in Kabaddi is integral to the success of the entire team. So, we shall definitely miss his presence for he is to Kabaddi, what MS Dhoni is to cricket. The statement that he gave about retiring so that more and more young players get an opportunity is actually a mark of his humbleness and great personality. For him the progress of the sport and the Indian team is way above personal performances and laurels.
After a poor Pro Kabaddi 4, Ajay Thakur has been like a man reborn in the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. Do you think he has justified his place in the Indian team?
Despite not being in form in Season 4, he became a different player when he donned the Blue jersey. It’s a great thing that he has hit the purple patch and is scoring well, for he will play a key role as the first choice raider. What makes him special, is the fact that he has a plethora of skills, so you can rely on him to bail you out of a challenging situation, with his raids since he has a variety of ways to score points in heaps. Be it a bonus point, a running hand touch or a frog jump, Ajay will get it for you!
Do you think India has shown enough to answer any doubts that were being raised over their credentials of being the best team in the world after the loss to South Korea?
A string of victories, all in increasing margin since the second match have showcased the real mettle of the Indian team, the team is now in a sense 'unstoppable'. The wins have bolstered our confidence especially the one against Bangladesh wherein it was predicted that the seasoned Bangla players like Munshi and Zakir would rattle the Indian team but in fact we rendered them completely hapless, that too on auspicious occasion of Dussehra, which made the victory even more special.
Speaking about Argentina's thrashing, I can just say that the Indian team showed the world who is the real "boss" of kabaddi! It was a perfect all round performance which must have surely sent across waves of nervousness to the Koreans and Irani players.