Wazir Singh. The name appeared in the Haryana Steelers' line-up for their debut game against U Mumba. With a host of new players making their debut in this season's expanded Pro Kabaddi season, many mistook Wazir for one as well.
Having scored 104 and 65 raid points to finish among league's top 10 raiders in the first two seasons respectively despite playing in a team that finished with the wooden spoon in those campaigns, Wazir faded away into oblivion.
A ligament injury sidelined him for a two seasons allowing other raiders to take his place among league's finest.
But like it did for many other youngsters, Pro Kabaddi's expansion from eight to 12 teams opened the door for Wazir. The opportunity came in the form of Haryana Steelers, who had to build their team from scratch. Hailing from Haryana, Wazir found a route to redemption in his own backyard.
In their first match, Anup Kumar gave U Mumba the lead in his first raid. Captain Surender Nada, looking for a similar effort from Steelers' first ever raid, put his faith in Wazir — the forgotten man of Pro Kabaddi.
Wazir stepped up. The typical walk into enemy territory appeared familiar. The stance he took to pin the U Mumba left corner deep into his own area may not have rung a bell, but when he sprung to other side to make a toe-touch on the cover defender with his outstretched leg, in a manner that was so characteristic of him, the memories of Wazir doing this to defences would have flashed in one's mind.
As he celebrated with the trademark thigh-five, Wazir had his "remember me?" moment. His days in obscurity were bought to an instant end. But for him, there was more to it.
"For a player who is out for two years, to come back and score a point in the very first raid is so special," Wazir who was slightly drenched in emotion told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
"That raid gave me self-assurance that I can do it again. It was such a morale-booster for me," he added.
The boost in morale was clearly evident in the way he played thereafter. He finished with six raid points on his return, a tally that even the most seasoned raider in good form won't complain about.
However, sports can sometimes be cruel, and Wazir had one brainfade moment. With just three U Mumba defenders on court, Wazir had a chance to inflict further damage, but he failed and got tackled, giving away two vital points to U Mumba at a stage where the Steelers were lining up a knockout punch. As it turned out, it gave the Mumbai side a springboard to mount a comeback and eventually win the game by a solitary point.
So despite being the team's top scorer and exceeding expectations on his comeback, Wazir had to bear the weight of making the mistake that turned the tide of the match. So for him, the joy of a promising return had to take a back seat.
"No player is happy after any loss. I made an error that cost the team. So it was tough for me to react after that. The whole atmosphere of the league, and the pressure to deliver the same kind of performance that I managed before took a toll on me. I was only able to perform to 80 percent of my abilities. But I’m sure after two-three matches I will be able to get used to it, and give my best," the 27-year-old raider said.
The Haryana-born raider's rather long absence was due to his decision to not undergo a surgery on his knee. So, a complete rest for eight to nine months was the only option. After that, with a help of a local physiotherapist, he slowly began to do light exercises. It was a long process.
It was only after 15 months that he was able to return to the kabaddi mat. His coaches at CISF, where he is appointed as a sub-inspector, helped him make a smooth recovery and regain his lost touch. But Wazir recalls that the toughest part of his lay-off was sitting at home and watching others play.
"For a person who was a captain of a Pro Kabaddi team before, and for one who delivered good performances in the league, it was extremely hard for me to sit out and watch others play. I always felt that I should have been there. That feeling was very hard to overcome, but thanks to my father, who supported me a lot during this phase, I was able to get over it," he added.
But now after a positive performance in his first game back in the league, Wazir is happy he didn't rush back into the game. He feels fitter than ever, and is keen to start off from where he left off. Playing for a team from his own state, Wazir feels more motivated. He looks at it as an honour and a chance to give something back to the people who he feels are his own.
"It’s a matter of pride to play for your hometown, your home state where you were born. It’s a different feeling when you play for your birthplace, your state and your people. I can sense that feeling there in the entire team," said the Haryana Steelers man.
— Haryana Steelers (@HaryanaSteelers) July 31, 2017
He thinks the Steelers are capable of clinching the title in their very first season if they improve on their performance in their debut match.
"Our first target is to reach the play-off, but if our defence and raiders correct the mistakes that they made in the first match and maintain the same level of intensity, I feel we can reach the final," Wazir said.
While his team battle for recognition, Wazir's fight is for reclaiming his stature of yore. He yearns for that time among the elite, he longs for the loud cheer that the crowd gave him when he went for a raid, he seeks to be the best raider in the business, and he's ready to start from scratch.
"I want to reach the level at which I played before the injury but my ambitions don't stop there. My efforts now are towards going even beyond that," he signed off by saying.
Updated Date: Aug 01, 2017 16:11 PM