Manjeet Chhillar is among the prime poster boys of kabaddi’s ongoing transition from a rural Indian sport to a more global product. Chhillar’s exploits in the opening three seasons of the Pro Kabaddi League left many in his wake.
However, recurring injuries from season four meant Manjeet’s stock was considerably lowered. In the recently-concluded Pro Kabaddi auctions, the all-rounder was sold for just Rs 20 lakh when five Indian players were purchased for a price of over Rs 1 crore.
The 31-year-old also lost his place in the national side for the Asian Kabaddi Championship. But putting his fitness concerns behind him, Manjeet has managed to force his way back in the national fold for the Kabaddi Masters in Dubai.
The most valuable player of season two, who is currently aiming to help India to victory over Pakistan in the opening game of Kabaddi Masters, spoke at length to Firstpost in Dubai.
Here are the Excerpts:
Manjeet, you struggled with injuries and your fitness in the last two seasons. How did you manage to regain full fitness and also your place in the Indian team?
I was lacking in fitness, and I was also slightly unlucky that I wasn’t able to shrug off my injury. But now I am completely fine, my fitness levels have also improved. Injuries are part and parcel of a game like kabaddi, it can happen to anyone at any point. But now, I am fit and my target is to put in match-winning performances in Pro Kabaddi League and Asian Games.
It was surprising to see Manjeet Chhillar getting sold for just the base price. Do you have a point to prove?
I have never played for money. When I started playing kabaddi in 2003, there was no Pro Kabaddi League. In fact, to be very honest, I didn’t even know that kabaddi was part of the Asian Games. I just loved the sport, and I played it for pure joy. I don’t think that has changed. I don’t play for the money. I have proven my qualities at various points in the five campaigns so far and I hope to continue doing that in the future.
This is the first ever Kabaddi Masters. This is also the first time a kabaddi tournament is being held in Dubai. What is your take on the competition?
This tournament is just a few weeks before the Asian Games, so it is of huge benefit to Indian kabaddi team. All the major competitors like Iran, Pakistan and South Korea are competing here, so the players will get to know about these teams. It will be a good practice for the Asian Games. We will have 45 days to go for the Asian Games after this competition and we hope to learn our strengths and weaknesses against these opponents and work on them.
India versus Pakistan is considered a special encounter across sports. You have played in these games before. Is this game different from the rest?
We have played them in the past. In 2010, we had won handsomely and later in 2014 it was a complete one-sided affair, so it hasn’t been very different or difficult for us in the past. They have a strong team but I feel our team is stronger. We have a very fit squad. The fittest players have been selected and I don’t think Pakistan will be able to compete against us. It will be a one-sided contest.
Pakistan have a few senior players who have plenty of experience. They have youngsters who have come up from their league. Who do you think is the biggest threat to India from the Pakistan camp?
Their defence is their biggest strength. Nasir (Ali) and Waseem (Sajjad) who are their corner defenders are dangerous. They have a lot of experience. They have also played in the Pro Kabaddi League, so they know our players well. I think they will try to score most of their points in defence as their raiders are relatively weak.
What advice will you give our raiders to tackle the threat of Nasir Ali and Wasim Sajjad?
We have the best raiders in the world. There are no one better than them. So my advice to our raiders would be to go for points in every raid. We have a strong defence so we can always recover. However, I believe if our raiders go in with an aggressive mindset, they will be very difficult to stop.
India had lost their opening match of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup against Korea. How do India avoid an upset this time?
That was a different team. That loss is in the past. We have many new players in the team. They have put in a lot of hard yards in training and are absolutely ready for the competition. In my memory, we have had one of the best camps leading up to this event. I don’t think we will repeat that mistake.
You have been quite close to Ajay Thakur. What is your take on his captaincy so far?
To be honest, this will be the first tournament that I will play under his captaincy. So I will know better after this tournament. So far, he has played under my captaincy, so I will experience his captaincy in this competition before giving my verdict.
Srinivas Reddy is the youngest coach India has ever had. How has he been different to the previous coaches?
I am familiar with him since 2003 as I have played with him. He was my senior at that time. We have spent a lot of time together in India camps over the years. So he has been a good friend of mine. It’s great to have him as our coach. He has proven his pedigree. He coached South Korea in the past who won bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games. The best part about him is that he understands the players well, he knows when someone’s on form, or someone’s tired. I think he is a top coach. I hope to take inspiration from him and become a coach after I finish my career.
Kenya is the other team in your group. Did you get a chance to study their players?
Yes. We have played against them before. Some of their players play in the Pro Kabaddi League. We have seen their videos and I feel they are a good team.
Among the teams that will participate in the Kabaddi Masters, which side do you think will challenge India in the years to come?
I feel the team that will pose the biggest threat to India in this tournament and perhaps also in the future is South Korea. Pakistan can also prove to be a strong challenger, but I feel Korea is a bigger threat.
Updated Date: Jun 22, 2018 15:41 PM