Naveen Kumar is one of those kabaddi players who can turn a game upside down in a matter of 30 seconds - the duration of one raid. This season thorough, Dabang Delhi’s ace raider has been pegged back by a nagging injury.
“It’s been a khatta meetha (sour and sweet) season for me,” Naveen tells Sportstar on the eve of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL 8) final against Patna Pirates.
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“There is a bit of pain but that will not stop me,” he adds. Naveen has had a stop-start season but came good when it mattered the most as he starred with 14 points in the semifinal win over Bengaluru Bulls. Naveen put in just 36 raids in the three games and missed the last league game before the semifinal clash against Bengaluru Bulls.
However, the fear of the injury worsening has occupied a corner of his mind. “ Bilkul (of course) I still have a bit of fear. I have undergone rehab but there has not been enough time for proper rest. The aim was to get fit quickly and come back to play. Kahin na kahin…bolte hain na kachcha reh jata hai (at some point I feel have not recovered fully). When the pain resurfaces, I often hope that the injury does not worsen,” he says.
To helplessly watch his team from the sidelines worried him, but he found great support in his teammates. “The entire team - the seniors and coaches took very good care of me. They gave me confidence and told me to not force myself to play and take as much rest as I needed. They did not want me to push myself unnecessarily and told me we can always look at next season. But my rehab went well, I put my mind to do it. I worked out thrice a day and worked on my strength and made a comeback. I practised without pressure and that helped me. The fear lingered around but I knew I just had to play,” he says.
Looking ahead at Friday’s final, Naveen feels it’s a god-sent opportunity for Dabang Delhi. The team had lost to Bengal Warriors in last year’s summit clash despite Naveen scoring a whopping 18 points.
“We have been given a second chance to work on our mistakes and we will definitely do better this time. We’re all elated to be in the final. It will be a very close contest but we are confident of winning,” he says.
He also picked out Patna Pirates’ left corner Mohammadreza Shadloui Chiyaneh as the key man in the opposition camp. The Iranian has bagged 10 High-5s this season - the most in a single season of PKL - and has been PKL 8’s best defender.
”There’s no doubt that he is the best defender and he has proved himself," he says.
"Our raiders will aim that we eliminate him. We can put them under pressure if we get the better of their main player. He will be our target, as any main player is. We will look to keep him off the mat for as long as we can. That’s the plan!”
While he does feel the stress of playing a final, Naveen has a simple mantra to cope with it - sleep. “I actually feel very sleepy when I am stressed and once I am awake I forget all about it! I wake up and listen to my favourite song and I’m good to go - all the pressure goes away.”
Naveen’s favourite song right now is Diljit Dosanjh’s Born To Shine . Naveen is pretty much an embodiment of the song’s title.