The 2016 edition of the Kabaddi World Cup held in Ahmedabad, India was the sport’s first major international event since the inception and the subsequent boom of the vivo Pro Kabaddi league.

Two-time reigning champions, the Indian national kabaddi team, started the tournament as heavy favourites and were largely expected to win the title with ease. However, right in the first outing against South Korea, the home fans were left bewildered as the Indian national kabaddi team succumbed to a shock 32-34 loss.

The Indian skipper at the tournament, ‘Captain Cool’ Anup Kumar joined us on vivo Pro Kabaddi’s weekly Instagram Live chat series titled ‘Beyond The Mat’ to give us an insight into the Indian camp’s mood following the loss and how they bounced back from that defeat to capture their third Kabaddi World Cup.

Anup Kumar at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup

Every loss is a lesson

Leading by three with just over a couple of minutes left, the Indian national kabaddi team looked in prime position to seal a hard-fought win in their tournament opener. However, an inspired performance from Jang Kun Lee turned the tide in the Korean side’s favour and they capitalized on their momentum and caused the upset of the tournament.

While the nation felt a bit deflated, Anup Kumar, forever the optimist, saw this a lesson well learned. “In my eyes, every loss is a lesson,” said Anup, who scored eight points in the match. “I made a couple of big errors myself, but these things happen in sport.”

He credited legendary coach Balwan Singh for his positive approach despite the disappointing nature of that defeat. “I think coach Balwan’s words in the team meeting after the loss did us a world of good. He has always been a great motivator and he told us that in terms of talent, we triumphed every team at the Kabaddi World Cup. All we need to do is apply ourselves and we’ll win with ease,” he said.

The Indian national kabaddi team in action against Argentina at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup.

Anup Kumar, too, had a word with the team and as is typical of the Arjuna Awardee, his message was one of motivation. “I told the team that winning and losing is just a part of sport. Perhaps we lost because we were a little too lax and underestimated what the teams participating in the Kabaddi World Cup were really capable of. We are an outstanding team and if we give our best, we will make the nation proud and of that, I am certain,” he revealed.

Coach Balwan and Anup’s positive outlook seemingly worked like a charm, as the Indian national kabaddi team decimated the remaining four teams in the group stage, winning each match by an average of 44 points to set up a semi-final clash against Thailand.

Thakur guides India to triumph

After upstaging Thailand 73-20 in the semi-final, the Indian national kabaddi team set up a repeat of the previous two Kabaddi World Cup finals against Iran, who beat South Korea 28-22 in the other semi.

With the Indian national kabaddi team finally having found their groove, many widely expected an easy victory for the host nation, however, it was far from one.

The Indian national kabaddi team trailed 13-18 at the half with raiding sensation Pardeep Narwal and veteran all-rounder Manjeet Chhillar struggling to make an impact. With his team in a hole, up stepped Ajay Thakur and carried the raiding load on his shoulders to turn the tide of the contest.

The triumphant Indian national kabaddi team at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup.

“Ajay Thakur made a massive contribution in our victory against Iran,” reminisced Anup. “He was outstanding. The way he led by example and put the team on his back and carried us to victory was exemplary.”

Ajay Thakur and Nitin Tomar proved to be too hot to handle for the Iranian defence in the second half as India inflicted two All-Outs to race to a big lead and capture their third Kabaddi World Cup.

A proud Anup Kumar lifted the Kabaddi World Cup trophy in front of the jubilant fans at the Arena by TransStadia in Ahmedabad and added another victorious chapter to his incredible career. He names it amongst the most memorable moments of his life.

“Representing your nation is the dream for every professional athlete,” said Anup Kumar. “And to guide my country to a gold medal (in the Asian Games) and to a Kabaddi World Cup is definitely something to be very proud of.

“So, all my triumphs with the Indian national kabaddi team will forever be the most memorable moments of my career and my life.”