If you go back and watch India’s matches from the recent Asian Kabaddi Championships 2023, you’ll notice Pawan Sehrawat everywhere. He was raiding, lining up in a chain defence, attempting super tackles, giving young raiders instructions before they crossed into opponent territory and more. It is hard to imagine how someone so involved in a 40-minute kabaddi encounter spent an entire season off the mat after sustaining an injury inside the first 10 minutes of the opening fixture of Pro Kabaddi League season 9.
Pawan missed out on galvanising a new team (Tamil Thalaivas), and a slew of records. All that FOMO (fear of missing out) was channelled in his performances in Busan, South Korea. Pawan was crucial to India winning the gold medal, registering two Super 10s in the tournament while acting as a pivot in attack and defence.
However, a few months back, he underwent a right knee operation after sustaining an ACL injury during the PKL season opener against Gujarat Giants.
“I am an athlete, so I had to balance both the itches - of wanting to recover carefully and properly and battling the urge to get onto the mat,” Pawan tells Sportstar. “My injury had changed the course of results a bit. I felt I had to find a way to play. I wanted to put a band-aid and go and play. But it was not to be.”
Pawan was inspired by javelin Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra’s recovery from a potentially career-ending elbow injury and decided to approach the people who had helped the fellow Haryana athlete.
“I started the process of associating with JSW. It is such a big brand and they’re working in cricket and have a team in kabaddi too and the main thing is that the athletes there stay fit. I follow Neeraj Chopra very closely and I’ve seen how his elbow recovery happened and even when he’s travelling, there’s a physio from JSW who is with him. I mailed JSW from my end. Divyanshu Singh (Chief Operation Officer, JSW) then got in touch and invited me to complete my rehabilitation with JSW. He and Kapil Gurditta (High performance lead at JSW) sorted my own personal team - with a physio, a trainer and a nutritionist whose support continued even after I came home. They have a huge hand in my return to the mat,” Pawan explains.
The 26-year-old is snapping at the heels of superstar raiders like Pardeep Narwal, Maninder Singh, Deepak Niwas Hooda and Rahul Chaudhari in how he hoards points game after game. Pawan is currently fifth in the all-time raiding points standings with 987 raid points in 105 PKL games.
While the missed season has hurt his trajectory, his form post recovery sets him up to compensate for the time lost in the upcoming edition of the league and, more importantly, in the Asian Games.
“The time away due to injury and the comeback wasn’t tough for me. It was a challenge and I love a challenge. Now the task was to up my level of performance from what I did before. ”Pawan Sehrawat
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
“At the Inspire Institute of Sports in Bellary, I was assigned to Dinesh and Manish - my trainer and physio. The priorities for my time there were two-fold - one to get me back to my old fitness levels and the other - to take that fitness a notch higher,” Pawan says.
When Sportstar caught up with Pawan before PKL 7 in Chennai, he told us just how much he hated working out in the gym.
“ Mujhe gym pasand nahin hai. In a small area, we must keep exercising on the treadmill or work with the dumbbell. I like the outdoors better. If I get a park or an open space, I will spend my time running there instead.”
Today, Pawan is easily in the best shape of his life because of a curated rehab and exercise regimen which includes barbell squats and deadlifts in the gym and sprints on the track.
“I have never done weight training as part of my routine before,” Pawan explains. “We did that here. When I asked them about the benefit, they would say, “ Pawan bhai, aapko iska benefit mat pe dikhega (you’ll see the benefits on the mat, brother).”
“All along, I only focussed on my speed and how quickly I could get across the mat. However, speed can’t serve you too long as the solitary skill you possess. Other things like endurance also need to be tuned. I learnt that here,” he says.
“We worked on my core and found that parts like my shoulders were weak. So, we picked them out and worked on them specifically. I understood how important strengthening my core was to my jump,” Pawan, who is called the hi-flyer for his evasive frog jumps, says. “I jump quite well anyway but imagine, I manage that with a weak core. Working on my core made these jumps easier. Manish worked on my speed - to match the speed of my feet and footwork with my mind.”
Pawan has made a few friends during his time at IIS - with triple jumper Praveen Chithravel and boxer Sachin Siwach being among them. The banter extends to their workouts, with Praveen often calling Pawan for a round of jumps.
“I have not tried the triple jump yet (laughs),” Pawan says sheepishly. “Our bonding has been fantastic - among Praveen, Sachin and me. Praveen looks lightweight but he lifts a lot more than I do. He is a great guy, very punctual about his routine. So, there is a plan to do this (a triple jump challenge) when the Bengaluru camp begins. Either he comes over or I will head to Bellary, and we will collaborate on something fun,” he adds.
The fun and versatility of his workouts have helped Pawan to go through his comeback campaign in Busan without any injury scares. His support staff will be happy to see no stiffness or apprehension from the raider.
Method to the madness
One consistent pain point for Pawan before a PKL season or tournament was making weight.
“The limit is 85kg and I was always around the 86 to 88kg mark. I used to run and starve to reduce weight, but I now have a nutritionist, Shona Prabhu, to help me sort that part out. I was in touch with her until just before the Asian Championships,” Pawan explains.
“The boys around me would wonder who I am constantly messaging and sending photos of every meal to, but it helped. She would ask me for a plan and ensure I stuck to it. This Asian Championships was the first time I made weight without starving myself and losing energy,” he adds.
The camp ahead of the tournament in Patna helped Pawan to shake off the cobwebs.
“Training and trials happened during the camp. We got a lot of mat practice - the same drill. The challenge for me was the return to training and workouts as a team. I was working out and doing physical work before but when you are doing that individually, you can take rests according to your pace, but not when you’re in a team set up. This was a fresh experience after the six to seven-month gap due to injury and the subsequent rehab. But it went well. I was able to give my 100 percent on the mat quite easily too. That was a win I savoured for a while,” Pawan explains.
“My mind doesn’t harp on the injury. My game cannot stop for that,” he says.
A way to feed the fire
Ahead of the India camp, Pawan sat down with India head coach Ashan Kumar to chalk his return.
“He is an aggressive coach. Some are happy to fall back, to allow the opponent raider to come in deep, get a feel around and then decide to attack. Ashan Kumar is not that kind of coach. If a raider goes, he doesn’t believe in doing the ‘D’ raid and coming back. He wants the point. Likewise, when the opponent raider is coming into our half for a safe raid, Ashan believes that the raider should return knowing the might of the Indian defence. He thinks a little differently, aggressively, and positively. He is not one to play catch up,” Pawan says about the 63-year-old.
India showed glimpses of the same in Busan, taking massive leads against weaker opponents and even keeping the likes of Iran at bay with leads of over eight to 10 points.
Back in his Bengaluru Bulls days, erstwhile captain Rohit Kumar, in addition to rallying his forces on the mat, also had the responsibility of keeping Pawan calm in pressure situations. In a ‘how life comes full circle’ twist, Pawan took on that role for the juniors in the team during the Asian Championships. In India’s matches against Iran, Pawan was constantly speaking to Aslam Inamdar, who tends to get a little antsy in do-or-die raids.
“I think it is best if my role comes down to taking younger raiders in confidence and calming them down, especially when they are about to go in for complex or nervous raiding situations. For example, in a super tackle situation, you don’t just go in and directly attempt a touch. You need to halt a bit, look around, take stock of their strengths, see which side is aggressive, which one weak, who will not retaliate when you kick - these are things we discuss in the camp and something we will do throughout our time together as a team,” he says.
With designated captain Sunil Kumar was forced to sit out due to visa issues, Pawan was made the stand-in skipper. He built his leadership strategy around giving a young squad, with a few like Aslam and Mohit making their international debut, the security to make mistakes and learn on the go.
“I told the coaches, ‘This is the first seven I want. If it backfires, I will take full responsibility. My message to the boys was simple - jao phodke wapas aajao (Go and set the mat on fire). Even if you get tackled, your place in the team will be safe,” Pawan says.
This element of patience aside, Pawan also showed his aggressive side in Busan, taking on the Iranians when they misjudged their lines or asked for points that he felt weren’t there, enough to elicit comparisons with former India cricket team captain Virat Kohli.
“ Aise baat nahin ki Virat Kohli se comparison ho (I don’t mean to draw that comparison). If something is wrong and I see it happening on field, I will speak up. If someone is coming at my team, I will react. Saamne wale ko chodunga nahin (I won’t let the person before me get away).
Pawan does love his cricket heroes though, and underlines his adoration for Kohli’s close friend and former teammate, AB De Villiers.
“Mr. 360,” is the first thing Pawan says when his name comes up. “He is able to hit shots all around the park, there’s not a place he can’t send the ball too. I want that in my kabaddi. There shouldn’t be an element of the game I can’t do,” he says.
Revenge, retrieval and rigour
Another emotion that binds this Indian squad together is disappointment. The wounds from the defeat at the 2018 Asian Games semifinals to Iran may have healed but the memories of the drubbing are still raw. While Pawan insists that the team is not focusing on any one team, every statement of intent from the raider is about ‘bringing the gold medal back’ to India.
“I was in the Bengaluru Bulls camp in 2018 when India lost that final. Watching those men break down and cry was a horrible memory that is etched in my mind to this day. I don’t know if they’ve ever sobbed like that again, but that shouldn’t have happened,” he remembers.
Not one to put up manifestation posters or change wallpapers, Pawan looks for his motivation from within and puts it down to planning. While at home, his family has been helping him with the same.
“I keep talking to Sunil (Kumar) a lot and we would talk about how the time has come to make a statement before the other teams that we are not the kind of side that loses games. It is not only about Iran. We won’t take it easy with any team. We need to make a statement that we are better prepared than before and we’re out to regain that medal we lost in 2018. The 12, whoever it may be, will give our 200 percent at the Asian Games,” he says.
“The message from my circle is simple - go play your game calmly and bring back the gold medal we lost,” Pawan says.
- Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka Dream11 Prediction, ICC World Cup 2023: BAN vs SL playing XI, fantasy team, squads
- Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, LIVE Streaming Info, World Cup 2023: When and where to watch IND vs SA match today?
- BAN vs SL head-to-head record in ODIs: Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka overall stats ahead of ICC World Cup 2023 match
- Syed Mushtaq Ali 2023, Punjab vs Baroda: Live Streaming info, Match timings, Squads - all you need to know
- IND vs SA, World Cup 2023: Coach Rob Walter believes South Africa can turn the tables on India in knockouts