The form hasn't been in Jaipur Pink Panthers' favour lately as the once-unbeatable franchise has struggled to remain consistent since winning the title in the inaugural season. Jaipur have had forgettable campaigns except for the fourth edition where they finished runner-up.
Led by World Cup-winning India captain Anup Kumar in the sixth season, the team floundered, finishing fifth in Zone A — similar position a year ago but, eight points worse off.
Anup switched to coaching but the team added Deepak Narwal and Amit Hooda along with a bunch of youngsters to build a strong base.
Notably, this Jaipur squad does not boast of many star players. Instead, a new batch of young players are ready to make their mark in the league. The likes of Pavan TR, Sachin Narwal, Karamvir, Nitin Raval, Guman Singh and Elavrasan will have a lot to offer to captain Deepak Hooda despite the lack of experience.
Interestingly, not all new players are used to a professional setup. Some of them entered the gym for the first time, while some of them have never been on a professional mat ever.
"These are players who have performed brilliantly at the national camp, but it’s our job to make sure that they’re ready to absorb into the PKL culture. So, their routines, mental preparation, game sense and discipline need to be monitored. We’re talking about high-level matches and not a national setup. For that, situational understanding is a must. The average age would be around 22-23," says Deepak Hooda.
After all, the road to PKL hasn't been rosy for the players. The competition in parts of Haryana and UP is getting demanding every year. After undergoing trails in Delhi, the youngsters were a part of camps in Mumbai, Bangalore and Nagpur, where they competed against more than 1000 players. Out of 72, only 42 made it to the big platform.
One of them is Sachin Narwal, who belongs to the 'Narwal' clan (Pardeep Narwal, Sandeep Narwal) and has a task to continue the legacy. He feels that there is fierce competition now, with players getting fitter and smarter every season. "There’s a lot of money involved now. The concept of gymming didn't really exist as we trained at akhadaas. We've started to work out now in order to stay 100 percent fit and flexible on the mat," he says.
The rookie players are also under scrutiny for diet. The team management has paired one senior with two junior players to make sure the players adjust and learn the tricks of the trade. "We would eat sweets and other traditional thalis in Haryana, but here we can't even think about that. Turning pro is a completely different ball game altogether. All the seniors have told us to stay away from sweets, snacks and even ghee. It was difficult for our bodies to manage that," Karamvir says with a wry smile.
To make sure the young core is nurtured carefully, senior players Deepak Hooda and Deepak Narwal have to shepherd the squad. "Looking at the squad, there’s going to be responsibilities on me as a leader. We’re 25 percent ready. Let the matches began, we’ll get to know more about these players. There’ll be stumbling blocks, but we need to connect the dots to nurture young talents," says the captain.
Meanwhile Deepak Narwal, who has been a part of PKL since the second edition, feels overwhelmed with the new leadership role. "My teammates consider me as a senior at the age of 23. So, that tells you a lot about the team," he says.
"As leaders, we have to stay away from mistakes, so that these youngsters learn the nuances swiftly. We’ve had meetings with the juniors where we maintain a level of discipline which will nurture them accordingly. Jaipur has always done that and we'll stick to our roots," he added.
The versatile raider was left in awe of the upward trajectory of the sport in a matter of a few years and hopes that kabaddi follows wrestling's success in Haryana. "When I first started playing, kabaddi was played in 16 villages. Look at the jump now, more than 50 villages actively take part in kabaddi. There’s a craze for the sport, families are supportive. Wrestling laid the foundations for many families. It gave opportunities and helped many live a better life. Kabaddi, too, is heading towards the same direction not only in Haryana but also in other small cities. We have players from all over the country," says the former Patna Pirates player.
With an excellent mix of talented youngsters and experienced campaigners, Jaipur will look to pose a stern challenge this season. They face U Mumba in their first match of the seventh edition on Monday.
Updated Date: Jul 22, 2019 17:45:01 IST