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Why Bajrang Punia has been so defensive at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics

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Bajrang Punia is known for his attacking wrestling style and high endurance. The Indian wrestler is not a keen practitioner of using defensive wrestling as a strategy for his bouts. However, on Friday, he was found being too defensive on the mat in the first two rounds of the men’s 65 kg division at the Tokyo Olympics.

Kripa Shankar, a former Indian coach and wrestling expert, said that one of the reasons for this kind of wrestling is Bajrang Punia’s knee injury.

The 26-year-old had suffered a knee injury last month in Russia during the Ali Aliyev Memorial tournament. He was advised to stay away from the mat for nearly two weeks ahead of the Olympics.

Shankar believes Bajrang Punia is struggling while moving and seemed to be in pain during the bout and is therefore trying to save the knee. In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Shankar said:

“He is clearly saving the knee. The reason is because as soon as an attack comes on the knee, it will be hard for him to continue fighting. So, he is playing smart by saving the injured knee and looking for openings.”

And his observation is true to a certain level. When Bajrang Punia entered for his quarterfinal bout, he was limping. It could also be noted that he did not try attacking much during his match against Mortaza Cheka Ghiasi of Iran. Instead, he held his ground and just looked for openings.

“It is seldom to see Bajrang Punia getting on shot clock for passivity but today it happened twice. It was shocking,” Kripa Shankar said.

Bajrang Punia and Ghiasi were locked at 0-0 at the end of the first minute. The Indian received a warning for passivity and then another, to trail 1-0 at the end of the first three minutes.

The Indian, who had his knee strapped, did not appear particularly comfortable during the bout. In the second period, Ghiasi managed a leg hold that did no favors to Bajrang’s knee but the latter did well to avoid conceding points.

Despite his struggles, Bajrang Punia capitalized on a mistake by Ghiasi, rolling him over and managing to pin the Iranian to win by fall. Bajrang will now wrestle Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan for a place in the final.

Kripa believes the semi-final match will be a tough contest for the Indian and he will need to go all out to pull off a win.

“He has conserved his energy which is good. But that attack on the leg by Iranian wrestler certainly caused him pain. He will have a swollen knee but will have to go all out against Aliyev if he wants to win,” he said.

Edited by Diptanil Roy

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