A whopping 51 points separated India and England, as the hosts outclassed their opponents 69-18 in their final Group A match. As such, India finally qualified for the semi-final – yet their overpowering of the England team gave a glimpse of a different mindset the hosts have steadily been developing as the tournament progressed.
Two men remained on court for England at the 12th minute of play. The visitors were struggling against the Indian team they had long studied through Pro Kabaddi League videos and even from the sidelines of the Kabaddi World Cup. Now they had to defend against suffering another all out. Ajay Thakur was active, as was boy-wonder Pardeep Narwal. Then there was ‘captain cool’ Anup Kumar himself. Yet in stepped Sandeep Narwal to make the crucial raid.
Through most of the tournament, the 22-year-old all-rounder has been deployed predominantly as a defender, manning the right-corner position in the starting seven. Rarely would he be called up to raid. But against England, India had a new strategy. An attack-minded one. And so Narwal strolled in, slapped his palm on Nikesh Farmah’s chest before cleverly dodging Keshav Gupta’s challenge – patting his back in the process – and heading back to the midline to give India the all-out.
For a team that boasts an overwhelmingly powerful raiding unit, it is the hosts’ defensive structure that has been all the more telling. Not against England though. Coach Balwan Singh seemed to have instructed his players to provide an attacking display to mark their qualification into the playoff stages. As such, off the 44 raids that the Indian players did make, only one turned out to be unsuccessful.
With the marauding strategy in place, the Indians marched into a 45-6 lead by halftime – the biggest lead at the break by any team in this edition of the event so far.
Teenager Pardeep meanwhile starred in the performance, providing 13 raid points in as many raids while Thakur notched up a further 11. In turn the defenders too put on an equally comprehensive show, led by centre-defender Surjeet who almost single-handedly quashed England’s hopes of early raid points. The defender applied his coveted dash move to powerfully drive raiders out of play, particularly Tope Adewalure – England’s star raider.
The Englishman did eventually manage to secure the four raid points he needed to become the first in the event to reach 50 points. But that was not before the corner-duo of Mohit Chillar and Surender Nada was subbed on to begin their own two-man torment of the English attack.
India was well expected to reach the semi-final before the tournament even began. Despite the setback in the opener against South Korea, the playoff berth has been secured. The hosts will now face either Thailand or Japan, while the possibility of facing Iran still lurks.