The defenders move stealthily across the mat as they look to tackle Monu Goyat, one of the more seasoned raiders for UP Yoddha.
These are four new recruits, hunting in pairs of two, tempting Goyat to make an attempt for his signature move: the running hand touch. Goyat, however, isn’t one to be enticed into committing errors.
He stays true to the experience that he has accumulated over the years in the Pro Kabaddi League, not trying anything risky when the opening isn’t there.
Nevertheless, he does bide his time experimenting with some moves!
Goyat extends his leg in the hopes of catching the toe of a defender but fails.
Shrikant Jadhav smirks from the other half of the mat. The toe touch is his signature move. “Not every raider can ace it!” He seems to be signalling with a shake of the head before he returns to his half of the mat for a training session.
Goyat takes a break to watch over his fellow raider’s practice.
Two other fresh faces work as defenders against Jadhav, who’s not looking to go the full hog in what is clearly just a sparring session.
“Kabaddi being a contact sport, I’ve always felt that it is a young man’s game. The League itself, combined with the pre-season training camps, runs for a duration of five months so we need young blood who don’t tire easily,” says Col Vinod Kumar Bisht, CEO of the GMR League Games, which runs the UP Yoddha franchise.
“Out of the first seven starting a game for us this season, four are youngsters who came to us as NYPs (New Young Players) and they’re getting regular game time.”
“Of course, we look to blend the presence of youngsters with some very experienced players, so it’s a good mix that we have in our team,” says Col Bisht who looks on from the side as the players train under the watchful eye of their coach, Jasveer Singh.
As for Shrikant Jadhav, he looks to be working on staying clear of the lobby (the yellow coloured strip of court running alongside the main court on either side), when being tackled to the ground by the opposition’s defenders.
He almost manages a successful raid but takes a tumble inches shy of the mid-line, as the defender comes in from the side to push him out, into the lobby.
On occasion, a raider may bulldoze past defenders, as in rugby, but that can’t be a sure-shot strategy for every game.
Hence, both Jadhav and Goyat also work on the tactical aspects of raiding.
“Professional and technical aspects of kabaddi are permeating to the grassroots with the coming of a professional league,” says Col Bisht on the sidelines of the launch event for UP Yoddha’s home leg for the Pro Kabaddi League, to be played in the Shaheed Vijay Singh Pathik Sports Complex in Greater Noida this year.
“We are also associated with some local leagues in some of the smaller centres in Uttar Pradesh. Inputs regarding the players’ strength and conditioning are trickling down to the ranks and cultivating a future line of talent for us,” says Col Bisht, also quick to concede that a proper structure for grassroots programs is yet not there.
“UP Yoddha is a new franchise. This is our third season and we were first looking to establish ourselves as it doesn’t make sense to blow our trumpets when our performances in the league are down.”
“Now, we’ve made the elimination rounds in the last two seasons. This season too, we are placed sixth and need to win just one more match to make the elimination rounds. Now, we are looking to set up Yoddha academies in the smaller pockets where school kids can take up the sport.”
The allure of kabaddi in India’s small towns and villages owes majorly to the sport’s physicality. A raider being rammed in the legs by a single defender who holds his prey in place until others from his team can pounce too.
Meanwhile, the crowd gasps in shock over the tackle that went down. They are half-expecting the maimed raider to be taken off the court in a stretcher.
However, the raider emerges from beneath the pile of defenders, merely brushes the dirt off his bulging pecs and walks off.
From the western coast where local leagues are organised and the matches played on beaches – the sand serving as a cushion for the punishing tackles – to Punjab in the north where a variant of the sport, known eponymously as Punjabi Kabaddi is played in a circular court, to Tamil Nadu in the south where it is known as chadakudu and is the state’s official game, kabaddi’s appeal goes far and wide.
It also happens to be the national sport of Bangladesh, where it is known as hadudu.
However, until 2014, kabaddi was seldom shown on TV with the Asian Games being the lone spectacle, once every four years, where India’s prowess in a truly Indian sport found some limelight.
All of that changed for the better, feels Col Bisht, and the credit goes squarely to the Pro Kabaddi League.
“We had all heard of kabaddi but had somehow fallen out of touch with it because there was nowhere we were seeing people play the sport, especially in the cities,” says Col Bisht.
“It was Star TV which really took this leap of faith in Kabaddi, not just for the lust of viewership ratings but to also help the sport find new takers and grow, and the teams to discover fresh talent,” says Col Bisht as he again references the New Young Players (NYP) program, likening it to European football where each club sources talent through its academies.
“The NYP is being done by Star TV — the organisers of the Pro Kabaddi League — to unearth fresh talent and it allows the franchises to conduct similar programmes which would help the teams find players, young and raring to go but just in want of some proper guidance.”
Col Bisht’s enthusiasm for the NYP is understandable, considering that UP Yoddha have directly benefited from the program, finding players like Surender Gill this year who have become a vital cog in the team’s line-up.
One of the NYP recruits happens to be Ashu, a resident of Greater Noida who managed to impress the Uttar Pradesh based franchise on his shot at reckoning.
“Ashu had come to us last year too but we felt that he wasn’t ready yet. This year, we felt that he was an improved player and now, he’s starting the games for us,” says Col Bisht.
It shows that Ashu is yet to get used to the media-savvy nature of the league and the presence of cameras and reporters huddling around for a byte.
At the launch event of the team’s home leg in Greater Noida, Ashu is prompted to speak a few words about the team’s performance.
He wears a puzzled, then bewildered expression as the coach urges him to take the microphone. Ashu does so gingerly and says: “We have won six of our last seven games and I’m sure the home leg will be no different as we’ll try our best."
The coach looks on, impressed!
Updated Date: Oct 04, 2019 21:59:54 IST