Mumbai: When Fazel Atrachali started playing kabaddi in 2005, none of his friends were aware of the sport. After all, kabaddi was not the most popular sport in the country. The stadiums were not full, the facilities were scarce and the sport was new. Yet Fazel chose to pursue kabaddi over other sports because he likes new challenges.
“In Iran, people don’t know much about kabaddi. We don’t have a broadcaster too. Wrestling and football take the center stage. But after Asian Games, people know more about the sport and ask what is it about,” Fazel, who plays for U Mumba, told Firstpost.
Before the 2018 Asian Games gold in Jakarta, Iran always had to frustratingly play second fiddle to India on the kabaddi mat. But ever since Iran's first-ever gold in Asian Games last year, Fazel has noticed a change in the country’s attitude towards kabaddi.
"At first everything seems difficult. For instance, volleyball wasn’t that famous a sport in Iran seven years ago. But after we won medals in multiple competitions, people now know the names of all the players. Kabaddi is following the same path,” said Fazel, who took wrestling initially before switching to kabaddi.
Over the years, Fazel has not only established himself as one of the best foreign defenders but also as one of the most sought after players. The Iranian’s no-nonsense defence and impeccable courage to put his body on the line make him a fan favourite. The 27-year-old has two PKL titles — in 2015 with U Mumba and the following year with Patna Pirates.
Fazel admitted that the league has changed the fortunes of many players. “PKL has helped players change lives. We have the Asian Games and World Cup, but they are not like Pro Kabaddi. The league gives a platform for players to earn and live a better life,” said the U Mumba defender.
He also recalled his slow progress in the league, but admitted that it was all worth the wait. “When I first came to PKL, my contract was not good. But I kept trying hard to become the player I am right now. Finally, I’ve managed to settle my life,” he added.
For all his unmatched brilliance, Fazel is slated to captain U Mumba yet again and will be keen to form a potent partnership with Sandeep Narwal, who is the latest addition to the squad from the right corner. He credits the league’s competitiveness for his and his compatriots’ development. “For example, when you’re in the World Cup, there is a maximum of four top teams — India, Iran, Korea and Pakistan. While here, all teams are competitive with top players, which creates a great atmosphere for players to learn. It’s more professional than all the other competitions. As you practice and play against the top players, you eventually become a better player. Isn’t that healthy?”
With the revamped season around the corner, Fazel suggests that consistency will hold key to emerge victoriously. “You must be careful with your body to play a season that lasts for three months. It is not easy. You need to focus on your diet, multiple workouts, sleep and training,” he says.
Cut to the 7th edition, the ace defender has amassed 235 tackle points in 79 matches in his PKL career, and currently stands fifth in the list of all-time top tackle points scorers. From being a rookie in his first two seasons to gradually become the most sought after player in the league, Fazel has surely come a long way. "It’s my sixth season in the league. I have a lot to offer now. Before coming to India, I spent five years with the national team but here, I learned to control the team and the tricks of raiders and defenders. Something I doubt I would've learnt elsewhere," he concludes.
Updated Date: Jul 20, 2019 19:47:32 IST