Mumbai: Former Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) champions U Mumba have set their goals straight ahead of the season — a solid defensive line-up coupled with peak fitness for the players, especially for vice-captain Sandeep Narwal.
Narwal is among the most experienced players in the team and was the costliest buy (87 lakhs) for U Mumba in the auction ahead of PKL-7.
For the Sonipat-born all-rounder, fitness remains a priority going into another energy-sapping season. “Since it’s a long season, the focus has shifted to fitness. Earlier, we would have two sessions per day, now it is three, sometimes four. The harder we work, the closer we get to our goal. We have to save ourselves from injuries,” says Narwal, who started as a defender, but developed raiding skills over the years.
U Mumba had a month-long training session in Nashik where the coaches looked after the camp. Both Narwal and Iranian defender Fazel Atrachali have an important role in guiding the defensive side this season. The team played friendlies over the course of 3 weeks to assess themselves.
“The U Mumba camp has helped us with team bonding. From local to international players, everyone is ready to chip in. We’re still building an understanding. Even with Fazel, I’m doing the same,” he says.
Narwal, essentially an attacking player, took many by surprise with his defensive efforts in the league. By the third season of the league, the robust player had transformed into one of the best defenders. He finished the season as the second-best defender with the most number of tackle points (55), only behind Manjeet Chillar (61). Narwal who was part of the Patna Pirates, won the league in the third season defeating U Mumba in the final.
Meanwhile, U Mumba has banked on their defence for the major part of every season, with Narwal talking up his team’s defensive ability to take down opponents swiftly. He also added that the team that has fewer injuries towards the end of the campaign, will go all the way. “The defence is stronger from last season. There are a lot of up-and-coming players who are giving their 100 percent, so that makes our raiding department settled too.”
Three out of the four players retained by the franchise — Fazel, Surender Singh and Rajaguru Subramanian — are defenders.
Apart from boasting stoic defenders in Narwal and Fazel, Surender's arrival is a massive boost for the team. The experienced duo's presence can help shape the talented Surender into a match-winner. Surender is quite underrated and is the backbone of the U Mumba defence. He has just featured in two seasons so far but has emerged as one of the best defenders alongside Narwal.
Narwal, meanwhile, has been in the PKL since inception and has noticed the importance of team chemistry. “Communication and combination on the mat is what makes us a strong team. We’re training separately to shape ourselves individually.
Narwal further went on saying how kabaddi has gained pace in the last five years. After all, kabaddi is much more than just a sport for the Narwals.
“Be it Asian Games, World Cups or Pro Kabaddi, you’ll always see a Narwal on the mat doing extraordinary things. Kabaddi has been a part of us. Our families support the sport and every kid aspires to be a professional kabaddi player. This is a rich trend that we follow.”
Though the sport was once played in villages exclusively, it has now become truly international. “From the rich to the poor, anyone can play kabaddi. It’s not an expensive sport at all. There is no politics involved too and it’s the country’s beloved sport,” he concludes.
The seventh edition of PKL will kick off with Telugu Titans playing U Mumba, and Bengaluru Bulls taking on Patna Pirates in Saturday's doubleheader.
Raiders: Rohit Baliyan, Dong Geon Lee, Arjun Deshwal, Abhishek Singh, Athul MS, Gaurav Kumar, Navneet, and Vinoth Kumar
All-rounders: Sandeep Narwal, Mohit Baliyan, and Ajinkya Rohidas Kapre
Defenders: Fazel Atrachali, Rajaguru Subramanian, Surender Singh, Harsh Vardhan, Anil, Harendra Kumar, and Young Chang Ko.
Updated Date: Jul 19, 2019 21:17:31 IST