When you break the bank and spend more than 51 per cent of the available purse on a player in any sport, it means you are relying heavily on that player to keep your hopes alive.
Tamil Thalaivas experienced just this, having spent INR 2.26 CR for Pawan Sehrawat in the auctions ahead of the ninth edition of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL). Since their arrival in the league, the Thalaivas had never made the playoffs and were looking for a change in fortunes.
Fate had other plans.
Sehrawat ended up injuring himself in the very first game the Thalaivas played, against Gujarat Giants, with the captain needing to be stretchered off the mat after twisting his right knee. Having lost their skipper and easily the best player in the squad, the Thalaivas slumped to a string of losses, struggling to find the right team combination and to deal with tense game situations.
However, what followed for the Men in Yellow was remarkable as the team qualified for its first-ever knockouts, finishing in the top four at the end of the league stage -- all without its superstar who was cheering for his mates from the sidelines. The Thalaivas’ meteoric run ended at the hands of Puneri Paltan in the semifinals.
“We were winning the game and should not have lost to Puneri Paltan. We could have easily beaten them to make the finals and fir waha jo hota dekha jata (could have waited to see what happens next),” Pawan tells Sportstar.
THE GRIND CONTINUES
Weeks have passed and the noise around the PKL has died down, but Pawan’s grind does not as he works towards getting back on the mat again. Speaking about the injury does make the star raider a little uncomfortable though.
“The injury happened during the first raid itself,” he says. “I was defending in pain, hoping to win quickly because that was all that mattered to me at the time.”
“I am assuming it was a grade two tear probably 50 per cent while I injured myself in the raid, and it aggravated to grade three, to 70-80 per cent later, when I twisted my knee in defence,” he adds.
Pawan’s aggravated ACL needed surgery, a procedure he got done with Dr. Dinshaw Pardiwala - the surgeon who operated on Neeraj Chopra’s elbow in 2018 - when the season was underway. Given the physical contact kabaddi demands, proper recovery and rehabilitation are the need of the hour. More so with India set to take part in international events.
“My main focus is to complete my rehabilitation properly. It all boils down to one thing. Diet is also very important because gaining weight will cause you problems,” he says.
“My schedule was set for the entire time I was in Mumbai. I used to do two training sessions per day with my physio monitoring my recovery through it. I did upper body work outs to maintain my shape,” Pawan adds.
Recovery isn’t the only engagement keeping Pawan busy. He also recently signed with JSW Sports, which also manages a number of Olympians across sporting disciplines.
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INTERNATIONAL COMPETITIONS RETURN
After a long lull, international kabaddi action returns, with the main fixture in the 2023 calendar being the Asian Games. The postponed Asiad is scheduled to take place in China in September-October this year.
However, the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) has yet to provide an official update on the national team, its camps, or its players.
“I’m hoping that the Indian camp will begin soon, probably within the next two months. No one has provided us with any updates though. None of the coaches have called us to continue our training or given us the dates of the national camp or other details,” Pawan explains.
The last time he wore the Indian blues was in December 2019 in the South Asian Games in Nepal where India men and women won gold medals in kabaddi.
“After playing PKL and at the nationals, players now have the much-needed match experience. But we need a bit more support from the government in terms of playing with international teams and conducting Test matches with them so that we play regularly at the highest level other than PKL.,” Pawan says.
With the Iranians set to band together for a three-month camp and the Koreans also having a setup in place ahead of the Asiad, India needs to identify its squad and get to work.
“It (the Asian Games) is not a small tournament, and we need to start preparing early because teams like Korea (South) and Iran are strong, and we cannot take them lightly because they have beaten us in the past. That shows their potential, so we need time to adjust and set our team combinations accordingly,” he adds.