Fazel Atrachali is excited by the prospect of facing young raiders and watching young catchers emerge every season.
According to Atrachali, the young players are tougher to handle than established Indian names. “New players are more dangerous, you need to be very careful tackling them,” he says.
He elaborates: “The game was simpler earlier. When you faced a player he would challenge you one-to-one, the skill of older players was known to you. Younger players do the dubki (dive) both sides, front kick, back kick, hand touch, leg touch, they jump and return… it is getting more difficult. All youngsters know [how] to do this and in a way it is good because kabaddi is more interesting.”
U Mumba team-mates Abhishek Singh and Surender Singh, and young faces in other squads — Naveen, Nitesh Kumar, Sachin Talwar — are some names which come to mind. All of these young Indians were able to grab the opportunity. Emerging from the Future Kabaddi Heroes programme, ankle-hold specialist Nitesh was named best defender in only his second season, and is leading UP Yoddhas in just his third season.
Iranians are proven performers in the PKL, including Atrachali, a wrestler-turned-kabaddi pro. He has played 81 matches so far, and has 241 tackle points to his credit, including 15 Super Tackles.
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The Iranian star, the highest paid foreigner in the Pro Kabaddi League — he was retained by U Mumba for ₹1.11 crore — is set to captain his side in the league’s second-leg opener against Puneri Paltan. Atrachali has made a reputation as the left-corner defender; he has featured in four league finals since 2015 debut.
Asked about any system back home in Iran, for youngsters looking to take up the sport, he revealed: “We have a lot of academies; training is free and arranged by the federation. In my village, there are students learning the sport. I give them training shoes and team jerseys to encourage them.”
‘No. 1 wrestling nation’
He points that in northern Iran where he comes from, there is more interest in wrestling. “Iran is the No. 1 wrestling nation. We have gold medallists at the World Cup, at the Olympic Games; hence wrestling is first choice for kids.”
Asked about wrestlers entering kabaddi, he pointed out that the two body-contact sports demand different qualities. “They cannot play because in one second, a kabaddi move is over, whereas wrestling allows more time to execute a move.”
There are similarities, too, points out Atrachali, such as the ankle-hold. Wrestlers like him bring those moves to the kabaddi mat; his trademark move is the dash, using his powerful frame to retain hold on the raider.
The Iranian was at his menacing best in U Mumba’s season-seven opener against Telugu Titans, trapping rival raider Siddharth Desai, another Indian debutant to create a sensation alongside the Iranian, before switching sides.