After enduring a torrid campaign in the sixth edition of the Pro Kabaddi League, the Haryana Steelers are attempting to begin anew, with some wide-ranging changes.
The Steelers have let go two of their most high-profile players in Monu Goyat and Surender Nada, both of whom were injured for large parts of the previous season, and have brought in the experienced duo of Prashanth Kumar Rai and Dharmaraj Cheralathan.
But perhaps their biggest change has come at the helm, with former India captain Rakesh Kumar replacing Rambir Singh Khokhar. The coming season will be Kumar’s first foray into the world of coaching, and it is a change that has kept him on his toes in the first few weeks of training.
“This is my first outing as a coach, it’s my first experience. The responsibility is huge, you have to keep the team united, you have to get a performance from them. There are a lot of things you have to think about as a coach that you don't worry about when you're a player,” said Kumar.
“I would like to thank Haryana Steelers for all the faith they have put into me, and I won’t let them down. I’m going to try to translate my talent as a player into my new role as a coach, and take this team and the players forward,” he added.
Despite being new to the job, Kumar has already won over many of the players, with Prashanth saying, “I don’t need to say anything about the coach, he has a brilliant track record. He was an excellent player, and now he has a new challenge, but I know he’ll do it. He’s practising with us, trying to make us better, trying to impart everything he’s learned about kabaddi onto us.”
Steelers defender Kuldeep Singh was also quick to praise Kumar and his approach to coaching, saying, “the coach is great, he’s very nice. He explains everything really well, and he’s very calm. If we make mistakes, he tells us what we did wrong. He gives us great tips to help our progression.”
Haryana Steelers will be hoping that their gamble on Kumar pays dividends, considering the fact that they finished dead-last in last season’s group stage, ending the season with a joint-lowest total of 42 points, despite having spent big before the season began.
This time around, however, they’re putting their faith in experience, and there are few people in the league as experienced as Dharmaraj. The battle-hardened defender, nick-named Anna, has been brought into the team to shore up a suspect defence, and has been appointed captain, a prospect that doesn’t seem to daunt him in the slightest.
“There’s no pressure on me. I’ve been in this situation before, I’ve been a captain in the nationals and in season four of the Pro Kabaddi League. I want to unite this team, and I want to win,” said Cheralathan.
“Last year, the performance wasn’t very good. Haryana, as a state, is well known in Kabaddi for the quality that comes from there. Players from Haryana are in every team, doing so well. Haryana’s own team can’t fall behind,” added Cheralathan, stressing on the importance of the PKL title to Haryana, who have made just one playoff appearance in the two years since their inception.
The partnership between Cheralathan and Kumar will be a key aspect of their approach to the league, with coach Kumar stating that Cheralathan was brought in to do a very specific job.
"I've brought in Dharmaraj to keep the defence co-ordinated when they play, to make sure they’re disciplined. The biggest thing that I and Cheralathan have told them is that there will be no individual stars. Teamwork is key, and if you play as a team, the team will do well."
With the right balance of teamwork and effort, Kumar believes that the team could go all the way, saying, "I’m not thinking about the playoffs. This is not the goal. My target is to be the champion, but me saying that doesn’t make us the champions. You can only be a champion if you win. And that’s what we’re working towards. But you have to aim high, because if you keep your aims low, you won’t reach your potential."
"I’ve told my players that whenever I tell you to do something, you try to do it. In the end, if you can’t do it, that’s okay. But if you decide you can’t before the match has even been played, then you won’t," he concluded.
Updated Date: Jul 22, 2019 11:21:14 IST