Taking the mat for the first time since winning a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, star Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia was far from his dominant best as he just about managed to prevail 4-2 against a fighting Rohit to secure his place in the Indian team for the Asian Championships.
The national federation put Bajrang, Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Ravi Dahiya and Deepak Punia directly in the finals, a move which did not amuse other competing wrestlers and their coaches. Eventually all three made the Indian team for the Championships, starting April 19 in Mongolia, with Ravi (57kg) getting a walkover from hard-working Aman, who like Ravi trains at Chhatrasal stadium. Aman chose not to compete after developing stiff back following four tough bouts and Deepak (86kg) beat Vinod 6-0 in an ill-tempered final, which ended when the latter was given a third caution.
Bajrang, who had planned to compete in a couple of Ranking Series event to start his season but could not do so due to a left-knee issue, was not sharp and perhaps surprised by the aggression of his opponent. Rohit effected take-down to go up 2-0 and also kept Bajrang static with his body lock. Just before the end of first period Bajrang found a way to fell his rival to log four points. That two-point lead stayed with Bajrang though towards the end twice Rohit made superb leg attack moves but could not convert those into points.
Bajrang used all his defensive skills to not lose any more point. "This was my first bout after Olympics. It takes time to get that sharpness when you go to mat after so many months. After my injury I did my rehab on my own, I did not have a personal physio with me, otherwise I could have recovered early," Bajrang said.
"Overall I am happy with my performance considering that I competed after eight months. I felt good." The 28-year-old had injured his left knee during the National camp at Sonepat, late in January. He had trained in Iran before returning to country. Meanwhile, intense competition was witnessed in 74kg category in which Yash Tushir emerged winner to be on the Indian team. In a sea-saw battle, Yash, the junior world championship bronze medal winner, moved to 8-4 lead before pinning Pritam, the reigning national champion.
In all his bouts, Yash conceded early points but only to make strong comebacks. His four-point throw against Sajan Jaglan was the move of the day. Mangal (61kg), Naveen (70kg), Gourav Baliyan (79kg), Satywart Kadiyan (97kg) also booked their spots in the national free style team.
Men's freestyle: Ravi Kumar Dahiya (57kg), Mangal (61kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg), Naveen (70kg), Yash Tushir (74kg), Gourav Baliyan (79kg), Deepak Punia (86kg), Vicky Chahar (92kg), Satyawart Kadian (97kg), Anirudh Gulia (125kg).
Greco-Roman: Arjuna Halakurki (55kg), Gyanender (60kg), Neeraj (63kg), Sachin Sehrawat (67kg), Vikas (72kg), Sajan (77kg), Harpreet Singh (82kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Ravi (97kg), Prem (130kg).