With the untimely pull out of two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, all eyes will be on London Games bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt as India will be hoping to break a 28-year-long wait for a gold medal in wrestling at the 17th Asian Games that get underway Friday in the South Korean city of Incheon. (Delighted to win CWG gold, focus now on Asian Games: Yogeshwar Dutt tells NDTV)
It is the second consecutive time that Sushil, who won the gold medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, has decided to skip the Asian Games -- this time with an eye to the 2016 Rio Olympics. In the absence of Sushil, who also picked up a shoulder injury just before the Games, the onus for winning gold will be on his childhood buddy Yogeshwar, who had also won the gold medal in Glasgow. Kartar Singh was the last Indian to win gold in Asian Games wrestling - in 1986 in Seoul - and now all eyes will be on Yogeshwar, in the freestyle 65 kg category, to end the frustrating wait for a long-overdue gold. Yogeshwar, who had also skipped the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, had won the bronze in the 2006 Doha Asian Games. (Of Golden wrestlers with a silver lining)
India's wrestling squad consists of 18 contestants -- seven freestyle, seven Greco-Roman and four women. A rich haul of medals is expected from the Greco-Roman section, traditionally India's forte in wrestling.
This year too, the India contingent is particularly strong boasting the likes of five-time Commonwealth champion and Asian Games bronze medallist Ravinder Singh, Asian champion Krishan Kumar Yadav, World Championship bronze winner Sandeep Yadav, Asian Championship bronze medallist Manoj Kumar and Arjuna Awardee Dharmender Dalal.
Hope are also pinned on Amit Kumar -- fresh from his Glasgow Commonwealth Games success and a leading contender for gold in the freestyle 57 kg category. World No.5 Narsingh Yadav has big shoes to fill as he will replace Sushil Kumar in the freestyle 74 kg category.
Glasgow silver medallist Bajrang Punia (61kg), bronze medallist Pawan Kumar (86kg) and silver medallist Satyavrat Kadiyan (97kg) complete the line-up in the freestyle category and all three are expected to mount a serious challenge for the gold medal. In the women's section, hopes are high from Vinesh Phogat (48 kg), Babita Kumari (55 kg), Geetika Jakhar (63 kg) and Jyoti (75 kg).
But amidst all the optimism, the wrestling team's poor performance in the World Championships, in which the wrestlers failed to win a single medal in any category, provides a grim reminder of the stiff challenge they will encounter in the Asian Games.
The biggest disappointment was the fact that all the participating wrestlers failed to advance to the title rounds, bowing out from the initial rounds of the competition. The blank show may be due to the Wrestling Federation of India's (WFI) decision to field a second-string team in the World Championships keeping in mind the Asian games.
The WFI has selected its strongest possible team for the Asian Games and chose another set of wrestlers for the World Championships hoping that medals will come in the Asian Games because of this plan.