The third Kabaddi World Cup reaches its playoff stage with hosts India playing Thailand for a spot in the final, and powerhouses Iran playing South Korea. Ahead of the semi-finals on Friday, the Indian Express lines up the key players from each of the last four.
Pardeep Narwal (Raider)
Just a year ago, Pardeep Narwal was an unknown name in most kabaddi circles. Yet after two stellar seasons for the Patna Pirates in the Pro Kabaddi League – which saw the franchise win successive titles – the 19-year-old booked his spot in the World Cup team. Even during the opening game upset against the Koreans, the teenager – then a substitute – provided glimpses of his talent. Since then, he’s been a starter and key scorer for the hosts, relegating the sport’s poster boy Rahul Chaudhari to the bench.
The cover defender had a forgetful start to the tournament in the opener against the Koreans. After that however, the services player has provided a mixture of daring tenacity and cautious maturity. His coveted dash tackles have been timed to perfection, and executed with frightening power. Just ask the English. His work rate has made the Indian defence even stronger, with the likes of Manjeet Chillar and Dharmaraj Cheralathan too manning the ranks.
Meraj Sheykh (All-Rounder)
The Iran skipper has the defensive capabilities of initiating instinctive, yet well thought of tackles on opposition raiders. His forte however, is his agility in raiding and his unorthodox but devastating attacking style which sees him shuffle from corner to corner rather than the natural pursuit of sticking to one end. The go-to guy when it comes to reviving teammates, the three PKL seasons he’s featured in has seen him pull of super raids at crucial moments. At the World Cup, he’s been used sparingly, yet his moment may just arrive in the playoffs.
Fazel Atrachali (Defender)
Atrachali has a habit of lurking in his favoured left corner position, casually smiling and even moving nonchalantly. It’s a part of the series of mind games the former Iran captain likes to play. For when he spots the opportunity, his lethal grip of the ankle cannot be broken. More than once in the World Cup, Atrachali has single-handedly brought down the most competent of raiders. At the same time, he is pretty handy when it comes to raiding as well – all done in his usual casual manner.
Republic of Korea
Jang Kun Lee (Raider)
India knows all about Jang Kun Lee because of his dominant work for the Bengal Warriors in the PKL. And for the most part of the match, the Indians had shut him off in the opener. It was only in the last five minutes that the 23-year-old stepped his game up and wreaked havoc against the hosts to help record the now famous upset. A do-or-die specialist, the powerful Korean also has a knack of picking up useful bonus points.
Dong Geon Lee (Raider)
A largely unknown entity among local enthusiasts before the World Cup began. That was until he made his mark against the hosts itself. While his teammate Jang Kun Lee had been relegated to the eliminated bench by the Indian defenders, Dong Geon provided significant raid points to keep the Koreans within touching distance of the hosts. In fact, it was his super raid that helped change the momentum. Against Bangladesh too, the only other team that posed South Korea a threat apart from India, the 20-year-old provided meaningful contributions.
Khomsan Thongkham (Raider)
While most captains prefer to stay on the mat for the maximum time and hence opt out of continuously stepping up for raids, the Thai skipper Khomsan Thongkham works with a different mind-set. The 24-year-old is captain to the youngest team competing among the 12 present at the World Cup, and he serves as his country’s prime raider. In the crucial game against Japan, the six-footer stepped up to raid 23 times, remaining unsuccessful just six times. His reach is his biggest attribute, along with his athleticism and deceiving strength.
Khunakon Chanjaroen (All-Rounder)
So far, the 21-year-old is the only player in the tournament to have picked up a Super 10 while raiding and a High Five for defending – all in the same match. On that occasion, Chanjaroen helped his country to a comprehensive win against Poland. An agile raider with the ability to step up whenever his skipper is not on the mat, the youngster is a mindful tackler with the tendency of making timely challenges, and even providing support tackles for his teammates.