Commonwealth Games: Weak CWG field is the perfect chance for Indian wrestlers to gain confidence
Wrestlers like Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, and Sakshi Malik have a perfect chance to gain their confidence against inferior opponents at CWG.
The relatively weaker field at the Commonwealth Games will be an ideal opportunity for a struggling Vinesh Phogat to regain her confidence while a desperate Sakshi Malik would search for relevance, even as most Indian wrestlers are expected to pierce through the draws.
The CWG will be important not only for Vinesh and Sakshi but also for Bajrang Punia, who has been a bit iffy about his attacking prowess since suffering a mind-unsettling and doubt-creating knee injury ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
He recently underwent a few medical tests, and the results restored his confidence that his body is not in danger of breaking down if pushed. He can afford to go all out at the CWG, where wrestling powerhouses like Iran, Russia, Japan and Kazakhstan do not compete.
Only Canadian and Nigerian wrestlers can put up some serious challenge before the Indians, who have been dominating this quadrennial event for years now. The 28-year-old Bajrang would like to get that element of attack back in his game. His biggest strength has always been his immense stamina. He keeps a lot in his tank and has ruled the latter half of the bouts with his enviable endurance.
Vinesh was one of the most dominant forces in the wrestling world before the Tokyo Games and her fortunes have only nosedived since her shock medal-less exit from the Japanese capital. Much to the surprise and disappointment of keen observers of the sport, Vinesh, of late, is even struggling to go past her compatriots.
This was something unthinkable before the Tokyo Olympics, where she had gone as one of the hot favourites for a medal. Her struggles with the mental side of the game and the run-ins with the establishment after the Tokyo Games took a toll and made it a complex and tough journey back to normalcy.
The CWG can be the platform which gives Vinesh her confidence and rhythm back. A good result will certainly boost her morale and give the belief that she can still be the force that her rivals across the globe were always wary of. Not much time is left for the 2024 Paris Olympics, and the sooner Vinesh starts to believe in her ability, the better for her.
Similarly, the CWG will be crucial for Sakshi, whose struggles seemed to be never-ending until she found her lost confidence back after sessions with a psychologist. She finally managed to beat Sonam Malik in the CWG trials in the semifinals after losing four straight bouts to the young wrestler. She also beat Manisha in the final to claim the 62kg berth, having lost to the same wrestler for the Asian Championship trials.
Sakshi is not just defending anymore. She is looking to dominate, score points, and finish her bouts quickly, and these are good signs. The 29-year-old has not got any major results since her Rio Olympic bronze medal-winning feat and by grabbing a medal at a multi-discipline sporting event like the CWG, she can make a comeback.
Tokyo Games silver medallist Ravi Dahiya (57kg) is such a class wrestler that at the CWG level, he can win with even one leg and one arm. He would not need his 'A' game to defeat wrestlers from nations that are not traditionally strong in this sport. It should not be a tough task for Deepak Punia (86kg) too, but he needs to take care of his body as he has been pulling out of competitions very often due to injuries.
For Naveen (74kg), Deepak (97kg) and Mohit Grewal (125kg) also, it is a good opportunity to get a big-event medal.
In the women's event, Anshu Malik too has been dealing with a few niggles, but she is so talented that it will be a surprise if she does not return with a gold medal. Ever since she started competing on the senior circuit, Anshu's transition has been remarkable. Her technique, power and most importantly, self-belief have been key to her quick success. There is no doubt that she is the one for the future. A world championship silver medal last year raised her stature in Indian wrestling immensely.
Divya Kakran (68kg) is another wrestler who is expected to dominate the field at the CWG while Pooja Gehlot (50kg) and Pooja Sihag (76kg) will be contenders in their respective weight categories.
For the record, India had finished at the top in the wrestling tally with 12 medals, including 5 gold, in the 2018 edition on Gold Coast. In 2014, the team finished second behind Canada. In 2010, the team won 19 medals to claim the top spot.
Men: Ravi Kumar Dahiya (57kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg), Naveen (74kg), Deepak Punia (86kg), Deepak (97kg) and Mohit Grewal (125kg).
Women: Pooja Gehlot (50kg), Vinesh Phogat (53kg) Anshu Malik (57kg), Sakshi Malik (62kg), Divya Kakran (68kg) and Pooja Sihag (76kg).