Pro Kabaddi: From ankle-holds to agriculture - the Dharmaraj Cheralathan story

Leading a successful Haryana Steelers outfit at the age of 44, kabaddi veteran Dharmaraj Cheralathan discusses life beyond the mat.

Haryana Steelers skipper Dharmaraj Cheralathan comes from a family of farmers and plans to tke up organic farming after his time on the mat ends.   -  Amal John

Dharmaraj Cheralathan plans to practise organic farming and set up playgrounds to keep the youngsters in his neighbourhood occupied. But this is after he bids farewell to kabaddi.

But, for the present, his priorities are proving his worth as a defender and captain at age 44 and leading the Haryana Steelers to the Pro Kabaddi League title.

Dharmaraj is not only looking at getting into the 2019 playoffs in a gruelling competition over three months at an age when retirement queries float around, he is at ease talking about the future.

“I have worked on a farm earlier, so trying organic farming in my village is on my mind,” says the ankle-hold specialist, who uses his powerful hands backed by a strong body to trap raiders in catching range.

Watch our full interview with Dharmaraj Cheralathan on our PKL special, Kings of Kabaddi

“Kabaddi is a way of keeping kids from going off track. I plan to set up grounds in my village and guide interested kids to take up sports,” says Dharmaraj.

PKL is among numerous sporting leagues around, a trend he feels is changing parental reaction to sports-inclined children. “Parents encourage kids wanting a break between studies to go out and play some sport, even kabaddi. Their reasoning is the kids will be away from a mobile phone for three hours,” he says.

Kabaddi gave Dharmaraj a sports quota job in Indian Railways, and he later went on to play in the national team. But PKL gave him a taste for captaincy – the Patna Pirates won the title in 2016 under him – and fame, and when the Steelers face off against the Bengal Warriors at Pune’s Balewadi indoor stadium on Friday night, the senior pro will be making his 115th match appearance over seven seasons of PKL.

READ : Pro Kabaddi 2019 playoffs, final to be held in Ahmedabad

He accepts the respect and recognition that come his way at work in South Central Railway in Secunderabad as well as from the folk back home in Thanjavur during the short breaks between games granted by the team management.

“Even two days with my family is a welcome diversion. I return relaxed and refreshed. PKL performances crop up in conversations at home and when catching up with former teammates. Questions come up about mistakes in matches by me or the team. Sometimes there are requests from a teammate who I grew up playing with to speak to his children on the phone and assure them that their dad actually played kabaddi with me in their youth,” Dharmaraj, who is an office superintendent in the stores section at South Central Railway, says with a smile.

He describes catching up with colleagues as a happy experience. “People appreciate the hard work done by the players to be able to perform on the mat. The preparation put in by me to maintain peak fitness at my age is commented upon and makes me feel proud,” he says.

Raider under pressure in super tackle

For a defender of Dharmaraj Cheralathan’s class and calibre, the super tackle – teams reduced to three or fewer defenders catching a raider get rewarded with two tackle points – is a high point on the mat. Dharmaraj, who has 24 ‘super-tackles’ so far, explains why reputed raiders fall to the move in PKL. “Two points for the defending team, in place of one otherwise, puts the raider under pressure. He cannot go back empty-handed and has to venture deep into the rival half. Under pressure and thinking about how to handle the situation, as seconds tick away, the advantage shifts to the defenders,” says the Steelers skipper, who has three ‘super-tackles’ in 15 matches in the current season. Vishal Bharadwaj tops the list with nine from 15 games.

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