Corner defending in kabaddi can be a tricky proposition. Not only is it a vulnerable position where raiders can snatch points but even a slight defensive error can cost your team badly.
Apart from top-notch tackling ability and brute force, it requires good judgement when it comes to initiating tackles at the right time. The foundation of points are built around that position and how the corner defenders perform on a particular day could well determine if a team ends up on the winning or losing side.
In a role that demands a lot of challenges, U Mumba can reassuringly bank on two players who are best in the business – Fazel Atrachali and Sandeep Narwal. When the Iranian Atrachali switched from wrestling to kabaddi during his early days, he tried out several positions. But nothing excited him much as corners.
“Defending corners comes with challenges and that is why I play kabaddi,” the U Mumba captain told Scroll.in.
“I tried to play in several positions. As a cover defender, you don’t get much chance to react when raiders come to attack. But as a corner defender, you can take them on,” he said.
For Narwal, who scores a lot of his tackle points from blocks, footwork remains the key. “Corners are the backbone of the team. If you don’t focus on that, then the whole defence crumbles. So there is always pressure.
“The amount of footwork a raider makes, the same it is for corners. For covers you need to maintain a distance of two metres when moving front and behind but for corners you need to stay on your toes all the time and make swift movements,” he told Scroll.in.
Over the years, Narwal has been racking up most his tackle points through dashes and blocks – defending skills that target most of the upper body. But last season, he scored 47 per cent of his tackle points inside the baulk line which shows how he is inviting the raiders deep before waiting on the right opportunity to pounce.
“When I used to play at the start, I mainly used to block from the front. Now I put in more dives and ankle holds. If you want to take the game deep, you need to work hard on keeping the defense compact,” the 27-year-old India international says.
Atrachali and Narwal are ranked among the top five defenders for most tackle points in Pro Kabaddi League history.
While this is the first season in which the Indian-Iranian duo will be pairing together, the all-rounder Narwal believes there is a minute difference in corner techniques between the two nations.
“Both [countries] have similar features but Iranians bend more. So for example, if a raider is preparing to kick someone, they take a low stance. They are a bit more defensive while we Indians straight away put in the dives,” he says.
Atrachali, who has been a part of title-winning teams in U Mumba (2015) and Patna Pirates (2016) and among the best in Super Tackle situations, reveals how the dynamics of raiding has changed over the years.
“A few years ago kabaddi was simple. Before raiders used to challenge one on one, so it was easy to block them. But now they don’t come to you immediately, especially younger players. They are more dangerous. They know the dubki, the jump and many other tricks.
“When you play someone old, it is easy because you know what they will do. But with young players you need to be careful because they’re unpredictable. But these things are also good because the competition gets interesting,” he added.
For a team that has always banked on its defensive solidity, U Mumba will be placing their trust on two experienced personnel in Fazel and Sandeep as action shifts to the Mumbai leg.