It was silly season in football transfers this summer. Brazilian star Neymar left the tiki-taka temple of FC Barcelona for the nouveau riche Paris Saint-Germain for a staggering €222 million. Le Professeur Arsene Wenger, the long-time Arsenal manager, pondered over it and believes that the “acceleration in inflation” in football had gone “beyond calculation and beyond rationality.”
Even though kabaddi doesn’t so much as belong in the same galaxy of astronomical figures, India’s home-grown game has seen a sharp surge in fortunes. When the Pro Kabaddi League debuted in 2014, each team was given a budget of Rs 60 lakh. Former India captain Rakesh Kumar was the most expensive player at Rs 12.8 lakh.
However, with Pro Kabaddi becoming dizzyingly and unexpectedly popular, the spending in the sport has increased multi-fold. At the player auction this year, Uttar Pradesh Yoddhas paid Rs 93 lakh for raider Nitin Tomar, making him the league’s priciest buy. The teams’ total purse had also been stretched to Rs 4 crore, minus the expenditure on the elite retained/marquee players.
After years of neglect, the indigenous sport is finally fetching the big financial rewards. But unused to the hefty price tags, the players are struggling to cope with them. Of the top 10 buys of the fifth PKL season, only Rohit Kumar (Rs 81 lakh, Bengalugu Bulls) and Surjeet Singh (Rs 73 lakh, Bengal Warriors) did not seem daunted by it. Incidentally, both of them are from the Services.
Rohit, who had to overcome a personal tragedy last year, kept up his consistent scoring rate. The 27-year-old was bought back by the Bulls and once again handed the captain’s armband. Since joining the league in the January 2016, Rohit has been one of the best raiders on show. He was Bengaluru’s standout performer even this time around – 219 raid points in 22 matches – even though he couldn’t quite take them to the playoffs.
On the other hand, it was the first big season for military man Surjeet. He had struggled with an out-of-form U Mumba team last season but had emerged as the country’s top defender during the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. Handed over captaincy of a revamped Bengal Warriors squad, Surjeet led from the front. He commanded the right cover position, barging into raiders and pinning them with great strength. An aggressive defender, Surjeet was at the top of his game and led his team to the top of Zone B. As far as statistics go, he was the second-best defender in the league, raking in 76 tackles in 24 matches.
Like Surjeet, Tomar had made a big splash during India’s title-winning run at the World Cup last year. Even though he jostled for space in the starting seven, Tomar, a former wrestler, showed the knack of scoring points at crucial junctures. He was prime stock when the PKL 5 auction came around, and as many as six teams bid for him before the Yoddhas picked him for a record sum. The glare on the stocky raider intensified as he was given the additional responsibility of leading the team.
In Tomar and Rishank Devadiga, the UP team had possibly one of the most lethal raiding combo but their over-cautious approach seemed to strangle them. As the most expensive buy, all eyes were on the 22-year-old Tomar, but the Yoddhas captain fired sporadically. His 167 raid points from 20 matches meant he wasn’t in the League’s top-five raiders.
One of the biggest disappointments on paper, as it turned out, was India’s strongman Manjeet Chhillar. A smart raider and looming presence in the defence, Manjeet had earlier led Bengaluru Bulls and Puneri Paltan. For this season, Jaipur Pink Panthers invested Rs 75.5 lakh in him and supplanted their long-term captain Jasvir Singh. But with Manjeet falling to an injury early in the season, he only played in 15 matches. Once back from injury, he struggled for form even as the Pink Panthers finished fifth of six teams in Zone A.
With Pro Kabaddi expanding to 12 teams, it made way for fresh talent. Gujarat Fortunegiants’ Sachin Tanwar and Telugu Titans’ Vishal Bhardwaj provided the most bang for the buck. While Tanwar, a member of India’s Under-18 squad, was one of the driving forces as his team made it to the finals, Bhardwaj, 20, shone in an otherwise fragmented team. The Titans’ all-rounder, which cost the team Rs 6 lakh, was by far their best defender. With 71 tackle points from 22 matches, he was third on the list of top defenders. Meanwhile, Tanwar, came for a reasonable Rs 3.6 lakh but might well go down as the find of the season.
Hindsight is, of course, a luxury that the power brokers of sport don’t quite have. But they are increasingly creating a whimsical world where the fault-line between cost and worth is forever widening.
Updated Date: Oct 30, 2017 09:49 AM