Haryana Steelers has had a modest start to the 9th season of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) with two wins from four matches.
Its run forward will significantly depend on the performance of its defenders, especially Jaideep Dahiya, who was a standout in his debut last season with 66 points in 22 games.
Dahiya currently has the second-best tackle stats for his team with nine tackles from four games but will be confident of bumping up those numbers in the matches to come.
I’m feeling very happy that the team retained me. I played well last time and this time, I want to do even better and win the trophy. Haryana retained only a few juniors. But the team had it planned that we need this guy on the left corner and this guy on the right corner.
So, on the basis of it, I was retained. I am based on the left corner.
The experience was quite good. Rakesh (Kumar) coach sahab helped me a lot. The team seniors – Vikas Khandola and Surender Nadda never let me feel this is my first season. It just felt like a village tournament.
They kept me as a younger brother. I didn’t even feel this is such a big platform. That was the main reason I did well. My seniors said before the season, regardless of who the raider is or what his level is, there’s no reason to be afraid.
If you make any mistakes, we will take up responsibility. They told me to play freely. At the end of the season, they told me that I played well. He said the next season is important. I have many more seasons to play and want to do even more next season.
After my debut season when I went home, I had a few locals who came home, but the main thing was that the way people saw me, changed. There was a lot more respect for me.
After the season, I was picked in the Indian camp directly and I made it into the top 16. The Asian games got cancelled but otherwise, I would have got a chance to play. I think this must be the first time that three of us – me, Mohit (Goyat) and Aslam Inamdar – were selected for the national camp without playing in the national championships. But our coach liked us and picked us.
It was a big thing for my family to see me play in the PKL. When they see me on TV, they are really happy that I’m doing so well.
It is great that I have so many fans.
Initially, when people would ask me for a photograph or selfie, I would feel a bit embarrassed. Now a lot of people message me on Instagram. I sometimes come on Insta live sessions to talk to them. But sometimes, when I get 1000 messages, I’m not able to reply. But I do my best.
I’m from Sisana (village) in Sonepat. Sisana used to be predominantly a volleyball-playing place. But for the last 20 years, kabaddi has gained a lot of popularity.
There were many from my village who have played kabaddi for India at the junior and senior levels. My basic coach was Narendra Kumar who has played junior and senior nationals. He was a really good player but he didn’t get a job, so he moved into coaching.
He is the one who started my career. I owe everything to him. I started as a raider actually but I kept picking up injuries here and there. Finally, my coach suggested I try playing as a defender as well as raiding and finally I switched to defending full-time.
In my team, we had every position covered but we didn’t have a left corner.
That’s when I started playing there. I had already played for about 3 years when PKL started. So, I felt I want to play on that platform. I, too, wanted to come on TV and make a name and some money for myself.
In the past, there were a few villages like mine which did not have the mat. So, we used to play on clay. The problem comes when you play the whole year on mitti and then compete for 3 months on the mat.
That’s the time you pick up injuries. We picked up a lot of ankle and knee injuries.
If we practise regularly on the mat, there is less chance of injuries. The problem is that everything is much faster on the mat.
The speed of the raider and the defender is a lot more as compared to that on clay. Now, that is not much of an issue because most places have transitioned completely to mat-style kabaddi.
Everyone knows that, if you are playing in this league, you are of a certain standard.
They didn’t tell me much. They just reminded me that I have to play freely. They told me that even if I made one, two or even three mistakes, it is fine.
They told me to just play without fear. Last season Rakesh (Kumar) coach told me the same. He said even if the team loses or you make a mistake, it is fine.
We have taken the responsibility of bringing you here. It shouldn’t happen that if a raider comes in, you freeze because of some mistake you might have done earlier. That’s why I think I could do so well. Because I got the full support from my coaches and seniors.
I spoke to Manpreet (Singh) coach sahab and he told me the same thing. Nothing has changed. He told me ‘Play freely. There’s no pressure on you.’
We also have as team captain Joginder Narwal who probably has 30 years of experience playing kabaddi. I learn a lot from him as well. I believe we will do even better than we did last time because we have Joginder Narwal with us.
There are many seniors but I try and stay happy with everyone. We might be having dinner with them or practising, but I keep joking around. The seniors also don’t think Jaideep is a junior. (According to them) He needs to be scolded if he’s joking around too much.
I also have a close friend in the team Amit who I’ve played junior nationals and senior nationals.
There are some really senior players in the PKL who I admire like Pawan Sehrawat, Naveen Kumar, and Siddharth Desai. There are many players who have won Arjuna Awards.
You feel you have to perform in front of them. You look forward to competing with them. And it also feels good when you tackle a player with their reputation. People know who they are and when you tackle them, people know who you are as well.
In my experience, I really enjoyed tackling Pardeep Narwal. He was really famous because of his ‘dubki’ move. I always felt that Pardeep is the one player I really wanted to tackle. But that feeling has gone now. There are many good raiders this season.
Last season the one player I wanted to tackle was Pardeep Narwal. This time, it’s not the same feeling. Whoever I have in front of me, I will try to tackle.
There are some really good overseas players from Iran. But there are some very good players from India as well like Manjeet Chillar, Surender Nada. It feels nice that people say ‘Jaideep also plays well’.
We were in a bubble for two months last season too. But it was not hard because they treated me like an older brother. It was just like at home.
This season also we will be away from home for three or four months.
But we are used to it because when I used to train at Sports Authority of India (SAI) Sonepat, then I’d be away from home for as much time. You start missing home after about one month.
That first month is difficult. You miss the food – my mother makes aloo paratha, churma, boondi ke laddoos. I miss those a lot. I usually bring churma or maawe ke laddoo when I come to the PKL. The other states’ players keep asking me to bring that.
I don’t have a fixed diet. I usually just eat what I want and go to training. But for the last couple of years, I’ve been more careful. I don’t drink soft drinks. I also don’t eat junk food like burgers or Chow Mein. I avoid them completely.
Outside kabaddi, my favourite games are Volleyball. I also watch movies a little. I like listening to songs. I prefer listening to sad songs. I enjoy them more. You can say they motivate me.
But all that stops before a game. Before the match, I usually listen to a few bhajans of Hanuman Ji. And then I try to focus completely on the match. I prefer being quiet before the match.