Fitness plays a huge role in sport and often becomes the deciding factor as far as a team's fortunes are concerned. Kabaddi, the Indian contact sport that has witnessed a rapid rise this decade since the introduction of the IPL-style Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), is no stranger to the importance of fitness.
Senior members of the Tamil Thalaivas squad single out injuries in their ranks as the key reason behind the team's insipid performances in the past. The two-season old outfit finished at the bottom of their group in 2017 as well as in 2018.
"A key reason behind a team going on the back foot is injury. So in the previous seasons, we were hardly able to play our first seven due to fitness woes. None of the players should suffer an injury until the end of the season and that is what fetches us positive results," said star player and Tamil Thalaivas captain Ajay Thakur in an interaction with Firstpost.
Thakur added that the head coach (E Bhaskaran) and members of the coaching staff are focusing a lot more on player fitness in the build-up to the new season in order to prevent a repeat of what happened in the last two seasons.
"We hope we don’t suffer a repeat of what happened last season, and are focusing on physical training at the moment in order to minimise injuries," added Thakur.
As far as all-rounder Manjeet Chillar's concerned, his physical issues extend to his previous franchise, the Jaipur Pink Panthers, and he hopes to have an injury-free run this time around.
"When I was playing for Jaipur (Pink Panthers) in my previous stint, I suffered an injury and had to take a break. Had been dealing with knee pain, because of which I couldn’t play. As far as the past goes, luck didn’t quite favour us either, as several of my teammates were injured.
"We are confident of faring better this time around. Our coach Bhaskaran ji is ensuring we practice hard. Essentially, every member of our team is training their heart out for the upcoming season. Players who practice hard tend to keep injuries at bay as well," said Chillar.
The Thalaivas though, have made multiple changes to their squad this year, including getting PKL superstar Rahul Chaudhari on board for a massive sum of Rs 94 lakh. That in addition to a promising bunch of youngsters in the side, and both Thakur and Chillar are hopeful of the team doing a turnaround this year.
"Confidence is very high at the moment, especially after the addition of the likes of Rahul Chaudhari, Shabeer Bappu to our squad. As far as experience is concerned, we’ve got a new defender in Ran Singh, Mohit Chillar, etc. We can now say that we’ve got the right mix of youth and experience in our squad.
"Also, the arrival of Rahul has turned out to be a massive boost to our confidence, because Rahul Chaudhari, as you may know is a Pro Kabaddi superstar. A player of his stature joining Tamil Thalaivas is bound to raise the team’s morale," said Thakur.
Chillar too echoed Thakur's words as far as the team composition went.
"We are putting in the right amount of practice day in and day out. That and the team balance and combination. I and Mohit (Chillar) have played together several times in the past, and I also know a lot about Ran Singh. We also have quality raiders in Ajay Thakur, Rahul Chaudhari, Shabeer Bappu, etc. We also have a number of new recruits, all of whom are very good," said Chillar, who has represented a total of four franchises in the league so far.
The Pro Kabaddi has helped bring recognition to the players like never before. No longer are some of the top performers of the game relegated to obscurity; they are instead accorded a grand welcome in their hometowns and are recognised as stars. Both Thakur and Chillar have their own takes on this growth.
"I had represented India back in 2007. Hardly anyone knew we are international players. But in 2014, a month after the inaugural season of the Pro Kabaddi League, when I had returned home the entire city had gathered to welcome me," reminisced Thakur.
"I personally want to thank Star Sports and our Federation for this product called Pro Kabaddi League. Earlier, Kabaddi players were hardly recognised, which is no longer the case. We knew the day Kabaddi hits the television screens is the day this sport is going to dazzle," added Chillar.
The seventh season of the Pro Kabaddi begins on 20 July, with the first leg of the tournament taking place at Hyderabad's Gachibowli Indoor Stadium. The Thalaivas begin their campaign against the Telugu Titans on Sunday the 21st.
Updated Date: Jul 19, 2019 21:43:19 IST