Before the start of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup, I spoke to Indian captain Anup Kumar about the camp that was held in Gujarat for selection of the team for the tournament and he, with a lot of confidence in his tone, said that raider Ajay Thakur would not only play in the team but shine as well. At that point in time, that particular predicament seemed a little absurd, given how Rahul Chaudhari, Pardeep Narwal and Deepak Niwas Hooda were performing in the Pro Kabaddi League.
About a month later, India were staring at a defeat in the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup and whom did they look up to for a win? Ajay Thakur. It is not for nothing that Anup Kumar is the captain of the Indian team and if the best skipper in the world puts his money on a particular player, he has to be good. Around three weeks after Kumar had made that prediction, India were staring at a shocking exit from the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup if they would have lost to Bangladesh, an opponent that was both equipped and charged up to beat their neighbours in a sport other than cricket.
The match started off as a neck-and-neck battle and Bangladesh were pretty much in the game till the 10th minute, when India were ahead by just five points. In the 11th minute, Ajay Thakur was brought on for Deepak Niwas Hooda and from thereon, Bangladesh’s fate was sealed as the former, in combination with Pardeep Narwal, wreaked havoc on the opponent’s defence.
Thakur was on roll against Bangladesh and produced a Super 10, the first for an Indian at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. In fact, Thakur, after he came on, effected five successful raids on the trot to pulverize the Bangladesh defence and leave them clueless. On a day when experts expected the likes of Anup Kumar and Rahul Chaudhari to take charge, Ajay Thakur raised his hand up and said “keep calm and let me do the raiding.”
Making full use of his huge frame, Ajay Thakur showed excellent skill to evade the usually strong Bangladeshi defence, which could not contain the lanky Indian and conceded points one after the other. Thakur brought in all his experience at the international level to knock Bangladesh into submission on a day when India needed to make a statement in order to underline their credentials as the best team in the world.
Also read: After a poor Pro Kabaddi 4, Ajay Thakur gets a chance for redemption at the Kabaddi World Cup
Ajay Thakur used the entire space of the opponent’s half and accelarated when it was required, thereby making it difficult for the defenders to bring him down. Furthermore, he forced defenders to play into his hands by compelling them to attempt a take down and following that, Ajay Thakur used his body to touch the line. As a result of this excellent raiding, the man from Himachal Pradesh had only one unsuccessful raid out of twelve during the course of the match.
India, courtesy the win over Bangladesh, raced to the top of Group A and more importantly, showed how devastating they can be on a given day. Ajay Thakur, on the other hand, removed any doubts about his abilities to perform at the highest level. In fact, Ajay Thakur’s performance could push Rahul Chaudhari down the pecking order in upcoming matches including knockouts.
There were some doubts about the fitness and form of Ajay Thakur coming into the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup and him being chosen over the likes of Rishank Devadiga and Rohit Kumar. However, after three games played, Thakur is India’s leading raider with 19 raid points and the only one in the top 5, thereby dispelling any skepticism surrounding his selection.
India have one foot into the semi-finals with easy fixtures against England and Argentina remaining in the group statge. However, the loss to South Korea means that they could finish second and face Iran in the semi-final, which will be their toughest fixture of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. Should that happen, the strength, agility and form of Ajay Thakur will be absolutely crucial for India to beat the Iranians.