Pro Kabaddi League 2017: With Tamil Thalaivas' entry, sport's pioneering state craves taste of extravaganza

The lines and boundaries are drawn on the sands.

The setting could be a river bank, coconut grove, beach, playground or even a marsh.

The match will invariably garner a considerable crowd that swells with every growing minute. Their cheers get louder and whistles get screechier.

Kabaddi, a local recreational game that became a worldwide sport, originated in Tamil Nadu and has since percolated into every city, town and village in the country. The reach of the sport got wider when the Pro Kabaddi League was announced in 2014.

PKL had eight teams in the previous four seasons and its popularity seemed to be on a perennial rise. However, the absence of a team from the state that gave Kabaddi to the world was a slight that was grudgingly overlooked.

Finally in 2017, the contact sport, an integral part of festivals, films and other popular culture associated with Tamil Nadu got its very own team in the Pro Kabaddi League.

The Chennai-based franchise 'Tamil Thalaivas' will make its debut in the fifth season of PKL. The franchise, owned by a consortium of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and businessman N Prasad, will join Haryana Steelers, Gujarat FortuneGiants and UP Yoddhas to make PKL a 12-team league.

The Tamil Thalaivas team. Image courtesy: Facebook/Tamil Thalaivas

The Tamil Thalaivas team. Image courtesy: Facebook/Tamil Thalaivas

With odds stacked against the newer teams for lack of league experience and untested team combinations, it will be an uphill task for team co-owned by Tendulkar in PKL 2017.

"It is our first season and we would ideally look to make it to the semi-final and then strategize further," said Kasinathan Bhaskaran, the coach of the Tamil Thalaivas kabaddi team to Firstpost in an exclusive interview.

While other teams splurged money to get the big names in the mix, Thalaivas decided to invest in the younger inexperienced players who according to the coach could be moulded to suit the team's requirement.

"The coaching staff and management decided to cap our spending on Rs 40 lakh. It is a long season that goes for 13 weeks, there needs to be top-notch fitness and techniques. It is much easier to achieve it with younger players," revealed Bhaskaran, who has earlier coached Jaipur Pink Panthers in the opening season and Puneri Paltans in the fourth.

This smart spending led to the Tamil Thalaivas becoming the only team in the league to fill the quota of 25 players.

The biggest purchases of the franchise include Kabaddi World Cup's star Ajay Thakur who was previously played for the Puneri Paltans. The team also roped in the services of Amit Hooda, the costliest pick at Rs 63 lakh, who ended the 2016 season with the Pink Panthers as one of the league's top tacklers. The team's defence is bolstered by the presence of former Bengal Warriors defender C Arun who in collusion with Hooda will look to cement his place among the notable players in the league.

The Indian Kabaddi team would not forget the time South Korea's Dong Geon Lee decimated their defence in the 2016 World Cup. He is now a part of the Chennai franchise and is considered by the coach as an integral part in the scheme of things.

"We (the management and coach) decided not to splurge money because spending Rs 80 Lakh on one player is very risky. I would have bought 3-4 young players in the same amount. If there is an injury or there is a lack of training or fitness of that particular player then it leads to a lot of pressure on the team. The big players are also asked to shoot promotional videos which can lead to fatigue," said Bhaskaran explaining the auction strategy of Tamil Thalaivas.

Ajay Thakur (L) with Tamil Thalaivas coach K Bhaskaran

Ajay Thakur (L) with Tamil Thalaivas coach K Bhaskaran. Image courtesy: Facebook/Tamil Thalaivas

With 16 out of 25 members of Tamil Thalaivas being first-timers in the league, the task seems cut-out for the former captain of the Indian Kabaddi team, Bhaskaran, to train and get the best out of the youngsters in the squad.

Tamil Thalaivas, a predominantly young team (15 players under 25), was carefully picked under the aegis of the coach who selected players with National and Asian Games experience and from the national camps held across the country.

"We have 4-5 players under the age of 22. Many players in our team can play in multiple positions and it adds strength and balance to our team composition," said Bhaskaran explaining the ideal team composition.

With Kabaddi being an extremely popular sport in Tamil Nadu, it comes as no surprise that 30 percent of the squad is from the local populace. However, the coach brushes it off as mere coincidence.

Bhaskaran is more interested in the training sessions for a team that grouped together only on 14 June. The coach and the training team have devised a plan that heavily focuses on one-to-one training with every player getting varying levels of training depending on one's personal fitness and technical standards.

"Most of the players are from villages and towns. They have never gone to proper gyms and received physical training as such. So the trainers tend to concentrate on each and every player and use their expertise to help strengthen the required muscles to get them 'Kabaddi-ready'."

"The morning sessions are 90 minutes of fitness training followed by 30 minutes of game-specific exercises. In the evening, depending on the personal interactions, a training map is charted to work on areas that require improvement like agility, speed, endurance and strength," said the coach talking about the development strategy of a squad that haven't spent a lot of time together.

Kabaddi is a team sport that relies heavily on coordination and comfort levels between the players and the newly formed Tamil Thalaivas might have its task cut-out. The team has tried to overcome this deficit by playing invitational matches and friendlies where there has been tremendous crowd support.

There is no doubt that the Tamil Nadu crowd will rally behind the Thalaivas, especially when the team provides them with a three-layered fan base — cricket (team is co-owned by Sachin Tendulkar), cinema (legendary actor Kamal Haasan is the brand ambassador) and Kabaddi.

Tamil Thalaivas are grouped in Zone 'B' along with Bengal Warriors, two-time champions Patna Pirates, Bengaluru Bulls, Telugu Titans and fellow new entrant UP Yoddhas.

Probable Starting 7: 

Right Corner: Amit Hooda, Right In: K Prapanjan, Right Cover: Vijin Thangadurai, Centre: Ajay Thakur, Left Cover: C Arun, Left In: Dong Geon Lee, Left Corner: Anil Kumar

 


Published Date: Jul 26, 2017 04:04 pm | Updated Date: Jul 26, 2017 04:07 pm


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