Ashok Shinde: PKL 2016 will see many close matches

Shinde sounded confident that PKL will increase its fan-following and narrow the gap with cricket in the near future, specifically television viewership.

In this file photo, India's Ashok Shinde, now Puneri Paltans' coach, tries to touch Pakistan players during a kabaddi match between India and Pakistan at the Asian Games 1994 in Hiroshima, Japan   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

Following Puneri Paltans’ thrilling 30-30 tie with Patna Pirates in a Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) match at the Balewadi complex on Thursday night, coach Ashok Shinde had an interesting chat with his brother, who is at his native place Chiplun, over phone. “My brother said the roads in Chiplun are empty during kabaddi hours, with shops shut down and children preparing for HSC exams taking a break between studies to enjoy their favourite sport,” said Shinde.

The Paltans coach is a former international, who is familiar with the crowd response for kabaddi during tournaments. PKL appears to have caught the pulse of the people. “The main reason is the tweak of the rules to speed up the game. People demand thrilling action within a short time frame,” he said.

Shinde elaborated: “In new PKL rules, the time between raids was reduced to 30 seconds, with players becoming fitter and faster. Fans are enjoying the action in stadiums across India, and especially Pune, where kabaddi is popular in villages,” said the Arjuna awardee. “PKL 2016 will see many close matches. Patna Pirates is unbeaten so far; we forced a tie, so the interest will be more for the upcoming matches.”

Paltans will face U Mumba and Bengaluru Bulls this weekend.

Fan-following

Shinde sounded confident that PKL will increase its fan-following and narrow the gap with cricket in the near future, specifically television viewership. “T20 has a wider appeal, otherwise kabaddi players from India and abroad are doing almost everything that cricketers do towards preparing for a competition. Teams have dieticians, physiotherapists, trainers, massage experts etc.”

Paltans hired a South African trainer from ProSport Fitness Academy for season three. The raiders and tacklers were given specific exercise routines. Shinde explained: “Raiders did short sprints and zig-zag runs to develop reaction time. Catchers lifted and threw tyres in moves replicating those they do on the field, besides upper body work via rope climbing.”

Shinde was part of India’s winning squad at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, when kabaddi became a medal sport. The Pune franchise appointed him coach last season. “Last season was a learning experience, dealing with professional players. Money-wise, they are well settled due to PKL. If they can be fitter and take care of their bodies during the off-season, the game will benefit.”

PKL is poised to become a bi-annual competition. Shinde feels players in his squad are more focused on kabaddi as a professional career than before. “Players realise the value of recovery and follow advice from their dieticians, trainers and physios. Earlier, they used to be awake till midnight, busy with Facebook and Whatsapp on their mobile phones. Now, the phones is switched off at 10 p.m. at the designated sleeping time.”

The coach is also happy to see his players reporting on time for training. “If they are expected to assemble at 8 a.m. for practise, they reach earlier and work on individual techniques as raiders or catchers,” he pointed out. “The fittest will do well when PKL is played twice a year. Injuries will happen since kabaddi is a contact sport. Recovery is faster for players taking care of their bodies while away from tournaments.”

As coach, there is pressure to deliver, he points out. “With such following for the league, managements expect results. There can be an instance of a PKL coach getting his marching orders hours before a match. Players are stars in their own right, and have their egos. To get results, it is advisable for a coach to sometimes take a step back in the team’s interest.”