This was to be the first big test of India’s next crop of wrestlers; a glimpse into what’s in store for the future. And the situation looks grim. Deepak beat a world championship silver medallist, alright.
But that was the lone bright spot for India on the opening day of the wrestling World Cup, where the country’s wrestlers won just one out of the 16 bouts fought over two matches. India lost to Mongolia 7-1 in the opening match before being spanked 8-0 by hosts Iran in the second to end their hopes of a podium finish.
Unlike other wrestling tournaments, the World Cup — which only involves the top eight countries — is a team event where eight bouts in different weight categories are fought and the team winning the most of them is declared the winner. The Indians were not among the favourites for a podium finish but looked so woefully under-prepared that they will do well to avoid the wooden spoon.
What hurt a weak Indian squad further was the country’s failure to ensure Amit Dahiya reached Kermanshah in time for the tournament. Dahiya was a late replacement in the 57kg category after Utkarsh Kale withdrew citing an injury. However, inability to get a visa in time for the World Cup meant India could not field a wrestler in the 57kg and had to forfeit the bouts.
That meant India began both matches with a 0-1 deficit. And the rest did not do enough to overturn it. Against Mongolia, the Indian wrestlers at least came up with a fighting effort.
Almost every bout were closely contested, but the Indians ran out of ideas and energy towards the end of every bout. Deepak’s hard-fought 8-7 win over Unurbat Purevjav in the 86kg category gave the team some hope but Roublejit Rangi and Krishan – who followed in the 97kg and 125kg – could barely withstand the challenge.
Things would get embarrassing for India later in the day against Iran. Once against starting with a 0-1 deficit because of Dahiya’s absence, India were humiliated by the host nation. Three bouts – 70kg involving Amit Dhankar, Deepak in 86kg and Rangi in 97kg – were stopped in the first round itself because the Iranian wrestlers had taken an unassailable lead.
In fact, Rangi’s match lasted just 46 seconds while Deepak could compete for a minute and 38 seconds only. Bajrang, the most experienced wrestler in the squad, lost both his bouts without much of a fight.
India will take on Turkey in their final match on Friday. A win over Turkey, who beat Mongolia but lost to Iran, may still not be enough to prevent India from finishing at the bottom of Group B and fighting for the last two spots in the classification playoffs.