MUMBAI: There was the US basketball 'dream' team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird led the star-studded squad that was described by the American media as the greatest sports team ever assembled. It’s a nickname that a few of the subsequent American basketball teams have carried.
The lofty label has now been bestowed upon the Indian team for the Kabaddi World Cup. Mainly by the tournament broadcasters — Star Sports, who have taken over marketing of the game in the country.
In another glitzy ceremony, befitting the profile of their Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), the Indian 'dream' team was unveiled in Mumbai on Tuesday. The appropriation, though far-fetched, primarily rests on the fact that kabaddi is as Indian a game as basketball is American. And going into the World Cup, which begins in Ahmedabad on October 7, India start as huge favourites.
They won the last two editions, held in 2004 and 2007, and are set to dominate the 12-team field. Their arch-rivals Pakistan, who have been the only other historically competitive team in kabaddi, will not be participating in this tournament.
“It’s a huge responsibility for me, being the India captain,” said Anup Kumar, the 33-year-old star raider who leads PKL’s glamour team, U Mumba. “In the league it’s different. There are some matches you are bound to lose. But at the World Cup, if the team does not play well or, God forbid, we lose it will be a massive blow.” India have a reputation to keep and expectations to meet.
“We know Iran are always strong contenders. But even the players are excited to see what teams like USA, England and Australia will be like. Playing at home, the audience support will be overwhelming. But when we go out on the mat, we have to block all that pressure out and not let it distract us. When you are playing, you have to keep your wits about you and execute the plan. But we have to keep in mind that we are doing this for the country.”
Kumar was the captain of the team that won gold at the 2014 Asian Games, narrowly beating Iran in the final. But it is the first time that he will be part of the 14-member World Cup squad.
The International Kabaddi Federation hasn’t been able to historically keep the World Cup as a regular feature on the calendar, mainly due to the lack of funds. The previous editions were held in Mumbai, in relative obscurity, even though India won comprehensively.
They beat Iran 55-27 in the 2004 final, and the same opponents 29-19 in 2007 title clash.
Indian squad: Anup Kumar (captain), Ajay Thakur, Deepak Hooda, Dharamraj Cheralathan, Jasvir Singh, Kiran Parmar, Manjeet Chillar, Mohit Chillar, Nitin Tomar, Pardeep Narwal, Rahul Chaudhuri, Surendra Nara, Surjeet, Sandeep Narwal.
Participating nations: India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Iran, USA, England, Australia, Poland, Kenya, South Korea, Japan, Argentina.