Ajay Thakur likely to lead Chennai franchise in PKL

Tamil Nadu players are being represented nine out of the 12 franchises, and it is a sign that the State players are second to none. “There are 19 players from TN in PKL and we have eight of them,” said Baskaran of Chennai franchise.

K. Baskaran, the chief coach of the yet-to-be-named Chennai franchise, hopes to have the crowd support and its blessings.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

For kabaddi coach K. Baskaran, having a franchise based out of Chennai for the fifth season of Pro Kabaddi League has brought in a sense of calm.  He has coached Jaipur Pink Panthers for three years and has held the helm at Puneri Paltan for a year, but one question kept finding its way into most of his interactions with people. Why hasn't there been a bid from the city/State for a team in the Pro Kabaddi League, he would often be asked. And his reply would invariably be: "‘It will come soon.”

Baskaran's assertion is now a reality as Chennai is one of the four new teams to be part of the upcoming edition of the PKL and he has been named the chief coach. “Finally, the wait is over,” the chief coach of the yet-to-be-named Chennai franchise told Sportstar.  "Now, the people will be relieved and so am I.” the 48-year-old from Sooliyakkottai in Tanjore said.

The chief coach said the franchise was raring to go, with the matches in Chennai most likely to be held at the “end of September.”

Keeping in mind the inclusion of four new teams, and consequently more number of matches, the Chennai franchise entered the auction with a clear strategy. “We are the only franchise to pick the maximum number of players-25-in the squad and we are the only team to select the maximum number of foreigners-four,” explained Baskaran. “We have only two well known players-Amit Hooda and Ajay Thakur, and the rest (except Arun from Tamil Nadu) are all youngsters,” said Baskaran. “We are confident and our goal at the moment is to reach the play-offs.”

As PKL season-5 will be a long haul, the scope of injuries is likely to be high. “That’s why we picked 25 instead of 18, so that we can give enough chances and rest to the players,” he explained.

The inclusion of Baskaran as the coach was a big scoop for the newly formed Chennai franchise. “We were fairly new to the sport and we had less time from the day our franchise was formed to the auction. So getting Baskaran on board was a huge plus as he has enough knowledge, having been involved with the previous four editions of the PKL [with Jaipur Pink Panthers (three years) and one year with Puneri Paltan]”, said Varun Tripuraneni, CEO of the franchise.

The addition of seven first-timers into the Chennai franchise from the talent hunt launched by Mashal Sports, Star Sports and Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India, will be an added attraction. “All over India, 6000 players took part in the hunt. About 320 were selected for the camp held at Sports Authority of India (Gandhi Nagar, Gujarat) and from the camp they short-listed 133. There was a final camp in Mumbai where 56 were selected to be distributed among all the  franchises,” said Baskaran.

Tamil Nadu players are being represented in nine of the 12 franchises, and it is a sign that the State players are second to none. “There are 19 players from TN in PKL and we have eight of them,” said Baskaran.

Calling Amit Hooda — the most expensive pick of the franchise at Rs. 63 lakh — as “the pillar of the team”, Baskaran revealed that Ajay Thakur was likely to lead the side.

Varun said the name of the franchise and the captain will be announced next month. The 32-year-old said the franchise was very happy having Nehru Indoor Stadium as the venue. “We did a recce a week before the auction. It is a great venue and probably one of the biggest in PKL,” he said.

Once the captain and the name of the franchise are decided, the team will hit the ground running. “Hopefully, we will have the crowd support and its blessings,” said Baskaran.

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