It’s time for Super Raids, All Outs, Super Tackles and Bonus Points this December as the ProKabaddi League makes a comeback after 25 months in an all-new avatar. The organisers – taking inspiration from the 2020 NBA Bubble, where the playoffs were held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex inside Walt Disney World in Florida – have taken a bold step to stage this season at the Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel and Convention Centre.
All 12 teams will be housed in the hotel, have designated time slots for training and meals, and will be allowed to travel only to the competition venue, which is just a few yards from their rooms.
The season will also see a few days of triple-headers – another import from the NBA. The players, away from the mat for two years, are itching to get back to action. Pardeep ‘ Dubki King’ Narwal can’t wait to get on the mat. He made PKL history at the auctions held earlier this year as UP Yoddha splashed Rs 1.65 crore to rope him in.
“ Main bolta bohot kam hoon (I don’t speak much),” he says. Having won three titles with Patna Pirates, the 24-year-old is eager to taste similar success with his new side. “We have a very balanced team with plenty of youngsters. The onus will be on me to steer the team as a seasoned player, but I have full faith in the team. We don’t have a trophy yet and I would like to change that this season,” he adds.
“I don’t have any individual targets. I want to play for the team – that’s my primary aim. If I do well, then the points will follow,” he says.
Pardeep is the leading scorer in PKL history with a total of 1169 points. His total tally is more than 50 per cent of what Tamil Thalaivas has managed in three seasons.
Pardeep’s side will face stiff competition from another side hungry for a maiden title – Telugu Titans. The Hyderabad-based team acquired former Bengaluru Bulls captain Rohit Kumar and held on to its ace raider Siddharth Desai for Rs 1.30 crore.
Siddharth, dubbed the Baahubali of the kabaddi world, has a point to prove. The muscular raider pocketed 220 points last season, the fourth-highest in the league, but was far from his best. A shoulder injury had partially restricted his performance, but he’s had two years now, almost too much time he concedes, to fully recover.
“ Recovery ke liye jyada hi time mil gaya, do saal tang ho gya wait karke (I got a little too much time to recover. I was getting impatient to get back to playing.) I have been focusing on strengthening my lower body and have been working on improving my explosive power, This will help me grab a bonus point and evade the defenders,” he says.
“I am very excited and keen to show how I have improved my game. The team has trusted me and made me the vice-captain. My target is to take the team as far ahead as possible,” he adds. And then there is the most exciting youngster in the League – Dabang Delhi’s Naveen Kumar. At 19, he was the youngest player to record a 300-raid point campaign last term. The fun-loving lad is looking forward to sharing the mat with his idol Ajay Thakur.
“ Masti toh mein abhi bhi kar rahan hoon, no compromise! Chaar din ki zindagi hai! (I never compromise on having fun. Life’s too short!),” he quips.
“I’ve developed my power and speed so that I can score more super raids. I have been learning a lot from the senior players in the team. Ajay bhai has helped me a lot and given me some very useful tips, with the most important one being I need to remain fit so that I can enjoy a lengthy career,” he says. “He’s also taught me his signature Frog Jump move, which I am very excited to try out in the League!
While the kabaddi fraternity is overjoyed at the return of the biggest sporting league in India in terms of geographical representation, the owners of a few teams are concerned about the possibility of incurring additional costs this season.
Each team will have to book an average of 20 rooms in the hotel for the four-month period and shell out additional money to ensure the sanctity of the bio-bubble. The League organisers, however, expect the costs to be offset by the League being held in a single venue. The tournament is usually played in a caravan format across 12 cities.
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