Akhil Kumar enjoys massive popularity in the NIS, Patiala campus. The hall is invariably full when the 33-year-old is inside the ring. While he may have given them little to cheer about over the past few years, the crowd still made plenty of noise when Akhil stepped into the ring to take on Rohit Tokas. At stake was a place in the Indian squad for the Asian Games and this time Akhil would not disappoint.
Akhil, who looked battle fatigued in his previous bout against Vikas Malik on Tuesday, came up with an improved performance against Tokas. The seniormost boxer in the national camp relied more on his experience and tactics than his footwork and agility. One such move saw Akhil taking Rohit to the corner and then launching a flurry of hooks and uppercuts. In each of his three rounds, Akhil used the same tactics and finally got the nod from the judges and booked his place in the Indian team for Asian Games.
While the Asiad will be Akhil’s first tournament in three years (he last participated at the 2011 World Championships in Baku), he did not call it a comeback. “It would have been a comeback if I had left the game but I never did. But yes, it feels good to be once again back in the Indian team for an international tournament,” shared Akhil who has moved up a weight category (from 56kg to 60kg) since his last international outing.
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But Akhil had infact suffered a break in his boxing career. In 2012, he suffered a calf injury which forced him to skip the trials for the London Olympics. During that lean period in his life, Akhil completed his training in Haryana Police (he is a DSP) and mentored young boxers like Mandeep Jangra (who incidentally booked his spot in the 69kg category). However, Akhil was never far from the game and took to wrestling at the Police academy by taking help from Olympian Yogeshwar Dutt and Ravinder Sangwan.
“I am really thankful to my wife Poonam, Dr Sanjay Vats and Yogeshwar Dutt for helping me get back into the game. They kept motivated me to go on,” said the gold medallist in the 56kg category at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Meanwhile, in Vijender’s absence, it is Vikas Krishan Yadav who will head India’s challenge at the Asian Games after beating Sukhdeep Singh to book the 75 kg spot. Also, Manoj Kumar, who is at loggerheads with the Arjuna Award selection over his non-selection for the award, made it to the Indian team by securing his place in the 64kg. CWG medallist Devendro Singh also made the cut in the 49kg category after beating Amandeep Singh.