For six seasons, Rahul Chaudhari ruled the roost at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad. The Bijnor native was bought by the Telugu Titans in the first edition of the Pro Kabaddi league in 2014 when Chaudhari was just a promising 21-year-old rookie. With a dash of swagger added to his immense talent, he won over the Titans fanbase and found a home away from home for himself. However, in the seventh season, the familiar sight of Chaudhari jumping over defenders in the Titans yellow will cease to exist.
After six seasons of blowing away the minds of the Hyderabadi crowd with his eye-catching raids and stellar athleticism, Chaudhari's watch with the Titans has ended.
In the 2019 auctions, the 26-year-old was bought by the Tamil Thalaivas. Chaudhari is yet to get over the fact that his time at Hyderabad has come to an end.
"It feels strange for sure to wear the jersey of a different team after playing for one team for six seasons. You feel a bit incomplete. It's like moving into a new house. The new house is good but the memories of your old house still remain," Chaudhari tells Firstpost.
Memories they have aplenty. With the Titans, Chaudhari became the league's all-time top point-scorer with a mammoth 876 points. He also tops the list of most successful raids with 679 and is only behind Patna Pirates' Pardeep Narwal in most raid points won. Chaudhari and Titans became synonymous for each other. With every home match at the Gachibowli Stadium, Chaudhari cemented his status as a fan favourite and franchise legend with his electrifying performances.
However, for all his individual glories, Chaudhari and the Titans never won the Pro Kabaddi title. The closest they ever came was when they reached the semi-finals in the second and fourth seasons. With Chaudhari failing to hit his highs last season, the Titans once again failed in their bid for a first Pro Kabaddi title.
For the seventh season, the Titans decided to part ways with Chaudhari and instead signed Siddharth Desai for a whopping Rs 1.45 crore rupees making him the second most expensive kabaddi player ever. Chaudhari ended up being signed by Tamil Thalaivas for Rs 94 lakh where he hopes to regain the form which made him one of the deadliest raiders in PKL history.
The task that Chaudhuri faces in his new home is a daunting one. The Thalaivas, who made their debut two seasons ago, have finished bottom of the league in both years of their existence. The Chennai-based side has a dismal win-loss-tie record having won just 11 of their 44 matches and losing 26 times with seven matches ending in a tie. Not only has Chaudhari been tasked with reversing the Thalaivas' poor record, but he is also expected to make them genuine title contenders all the while winning fans over with his raiding blitzes.
However, if Chaudhari is apprehensive about the change in surroundings, he may find a few familiar faces in the Chennai camp to help him along the way. Chief among them would be India and Thalaivas captain Ajay Thakur. The two raiders have been a part of India's deadly raiding unit which has won numerous titles for the country including the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup and a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games. The pair's combination on the mat dates back to their playing days with Air India where they won the government airline many titles at various levels. They also rank in the top-five of most point winners in PKL history and have a combined 1629 points between them.
By signing Chaudhari, the Thalaivas have brought together two of the best raiders in the history of the sport in one team. Ask about playing with his senior for the Thalaivas, and Chaudhari gushes about his hero.
"When I started playing for Air India before, he had helped me a lot. It is a joy to play with Ajay because he is very encouraging. He'll never stop you from raiding to raid himself. If you are in the zone, he'll do everything to ensure that you get to play at the same level throughout the match.
"Even if you make a mistake, he'll help you figure it out and work on it. As a young player, getting that kind of support from a senior player like Ajay was very encouraging for me. I just want to hope that the two of us keep on playing like this for Thalaivas too," the six-foot raider says.
Chaudhari was not the only experienced name the Thalaivas put their money on during the auctions. The Chennai side also roped Mohit Chhillar, Ran Singh and Shabeer Bapu to a side which depended heavily on Thakur and all-rounder Manjeet Chhillar. With a couple of promising youngsters supporting the veterans, Chaudhuri believes that the Thalaivas will be able to mount a title challenge this season.
"We are prepared this time to challenge for the title. Last time, we only had Ajay and Manjeet and they were carrying the team alone. I feel we have a more balanced team now. We won't lose easily this time but we also won't beat teams in one-sided matches," he says.
With the first leg of the three-month-long season to start in Hyderabad, Chaudhari will don the yellow of the Thalaivas for the first time at his old stomping grounds. To make matters more interesting, he will make his Thalaivas bow against his former side. Ask him if he would be nervous to face his former side in Hyderabad and Chaudhari replies with a 'Maybe'. But once he gets onto the mat, Chaudhari says, he will block everything on his mind and focus on winning the match for his new side.
"It will be a fight for sure (laughs). Even when I play against Titans in Hyderabad, I think my fans will be there and even the Titans fans will probably be torn between supporting me and the team. That will be an unmissable match for sure," Chaudhari concludes.
Updated Date: Jul 18, 2019 19:59:38 IST