Two months back, Bajrang Punia spearheaded the Indian team to the Wrestling World Cup in Iran. But the the tournament did not give a favourable result for India. Bajrang won only one out of five bouts. He even lost a bout against Mehim Nasiri of Iran by pin fall.
Therefore, when the two wrestlers met each other in the quarter-final of the Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi on Saturday, Nasiri was the favourtie and Bajrang’s toughest test in the tournament. The Indian wrestler was coming off a tough win over Uzbekistan’s Sirojiddin Hasanov 4-3 in the qualification.
Yogeshwar Dutt, the London Olympic bronze-medallist, is standing in Bajrang’s corner, shouting instructions to his prodigy. Chants of “India, India” have filled the KD Jadhav Indoor stadium. But Bajrang is trailing at the end of the first period.
“At the World Cup, we were playing in their country. People were supporting them. That makes a huge difference. This is the second time I was wrestling with Nasiri but playing in front of the my home crowd boosted my confidence. And I forgot that I was pinned,” Bajrang says.
Probably it did. Bajrang eked out a 7-5 win over Nasiri to advance to the semi-final and avenge his loss at the World Cup. He came up with a single leg attack after Nasiri had a push out. On the same attack, Bajrang rolled over Nasiri to lead by 5-3.
The two wrestlers continued to find an opening and Nasiri got hold of Bajrang’s ankle. But the Indian defended the move and turned it in his favour by exposing Nasiri. He held on to the lead despite a late attack gave Nasiri two points to eke out a 7-5 win.
Bajrang then moved past Kukgwang Kim in the semifinal after a 3-2 win. He had the North Korean in many locks and chest wraps but wasn’t able to score. He trailed his opponent 2-1 at the break.
Other Indian wrestler in the men’s freestyle had disappointing results as Jitender lost in quarters of 74kg and Satyawart Kadian lost in the 97kg repechage. In the 57kg, defending champion Sandeep Tomar suffered a knee injury to crash out of the tournament.
In the women’s category, Sarita Mor made it to the final in the 58kg category. In a superb show, she defeated Uzbekistan’s Asem Seydametova 10-0 in the quarters before thrashing Thi Huong Dao of Vietnam 12-0 to make the final.
Currently, India have three silver and four bronze medals in the tournaments with one more day to go.