Hyderabad: In two seasons of their existence, the Tamil Thalaivas have been the whipping boys of the Pro Kabaddi League. The Chennai-based side endured a dismal debut campaign where they finished in the bottom of their zone. With other franchises building strong teams for the future, the Thalaivas management turned to one of the most successful coaches in kabaddi history, Edachery Bhaskaran. The veteran had been the coach of the national team for over a decade and had built arguably the strongest team in kabaddi at U Mumba.
However, things didn’t go exactly according to plan. After buying a couple of good players during the season six auction, Bhaskaran had to contend with a host of players getting injured during pre-season.
“With players from the starting seven injured, the problem I faced was to see who I could field as replacements. We still managed to play well in the first match. However, the downfall that followed is something that I have never seen as a coach. I was baffled by how our performances worsened,” Bhaskaran told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
The Thalaivas’ season was a roller coaster ride. They lost matches from very strong positions but also notched some unexpected wins. Unfortunately for Bhaskaran, the instances of the former outnumbered the latter as the Thalaivas finished bottom once again. In his own words, it was his most painful season as a kabaddi coach.
Yet, the Thalaivas management put faith in him and Bhaskaran immediately went about tackling his side’s weaknesses. He realised that he lacked a strong second raider to support captain Ajay Thakur with Sukesh Hegde being injured.
The Thalaivas decided to retain Ajay Thakur, Manjeet Chhillar, Victor Onyango Obiero while hunting for a competent second raider. As luck would have it, they got the best raider of the lot during the auctions. The Thalaivas made a statement signing by bringing in Rahul Chaudhari for Rs 94 lakhs. When quizzed if they had entered the auction with the aim to sign Chaudhari, the coach said, “Rahul was always on our radar but we always thought the Telugu Titans would buy him with their right to match card. Fortunately for us, they spent a lot of money on Siddharth Desai which allowed us to buy Rahul.”
With the acquisition of Chaudhari, Thalaivas now have one of the strongest raid pairings on paper with every kabaddi fan eagerly looking forward to the partnership between skipper Thakur and Chaudhari. The pair have history, dating back to their days playing for the Air India kabaddi team as well as playing for the national team. In an earlier interview with Firstpost, Chaudhari said that playing with his senior raider early on in his career played a very important role in his development. With the duo set to play in the same team for the first time in PKL, expectations are naturally high.
“They are like brothers and their bond is very strong. So that translates well on to the mat where mistakes are forgiven quickly and they are constantly motivating each other. If these two click, we might not even need a third raider,” he said.
However, he tempered expectations to an extent by pointing out to the fact that all the teams know their playing style and hence will have plans specifically made to counter their influence.
“Given the advances in coaching, we spend more time watching video analysis than training on the mat. It's easier to spot weaknesses on a screen than in real-time. So we're sure teams will figure out their patterns and find mistakes. But given the talent and experience they have, Ajay and Rahul can still perform well,” Bhaskaran said.
Apart from Thakur and Chaudhari, Thaliavas bought the likes of Mohit Chhillar, Ran Singh, Shabeer Bapu and Manjeet Chhillar to form a formidable team consisting of proven players.
“We didn’t want the team to depend heavily on either defence or attack. Even if one front of the team is not firing during the match, the other front can contribute with points. I won't say I have made a brilliant team, but I think we have a balanced team,” Bhaskaran explained.
However, should injuries plague the team yet again, the lack of proven young players might hinder the Thalaivas campaign. Bhaskaran played down his team’s reliance on veterans and said that should the time and opportunity arises, the Thalaivas have a pool of talented players to call upon.
“We can never go into matches relying solely on young talent. You need some experience too. But if any of the seniors play badly or get injured, we have talented players like Sagar and Himanshu who are itching to play,” Bhaskaran said.
He also played up the importance of being fit and dedicated regardless of age. “When you see experienced players like Dharmaraj Cherlatan still going strong at 45, you see the level of fitness and commitment in them. All that matters for me is that the players train with dedication and give their 100 percent on the mat,” he added.
With a strong team on paper, Bhaskaran’s next challenge has been to get them to play at the same level and compliment each other on the mat. The fact that he has coached most of his players either at club or national level has helped his cause. He drew parallels with his time at U Mumba on how it helped him in forging a strong team.
“The first season at U Mumba was similar to my first season at Thalaivas in the sense that I had to build a strong team. I had the last call on everything related to the team. I was given full independence and it's because of that freedom that I was able to build such a good team,” he said.
The family-like atmosphere of the team keeps him hopeful of taking the Thalaivas to the play-offs for the first time. However, he mentioned that he is under pressure to ensure that his team doesn’t endure another mediocre season.
“What I want is for them to play as a strong unit on the mat. Having said that, there are 12 teams and all are very strong. If in any team, one raider or defender plays out of the world, then there's nothing we can do even if we put in 110 percent in training.”
In a season with increasing expectations against cut-throat competitors, Bhaskaran knows that his job will always be under scrutiny. Over his lengthy career, the veteran coach has seen it all and is tackling the pressure in his own manner.
“In the end, this is sport. If I don’t deliver, I’ll be out.”
Updated Date: Jul 21, 2019 20:00:50 IST