A leg up for kabaddi

Leading by example. Anup Kumar (centre), the U Mumba captain, averaged five raids per match. He was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the League.-SANDEEP SAXENA Leading by example. Anup Kumar (centre), the U Mumba captain, averaged five raids per match. He was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the League.

The Pro Kabaddi League has helped change the perception of the sport and its performers. People now realise that more than being a healthy pastime for the village youth, kabaddi can offer a sporting career. By Nandakumar Marar.

Kabaddi is a combination of rugby’s brute force, the explosive power of martial arts, the fast footwork of footballers and the lungpower of a middle-distance runner. The Star Sports channel’s live coverage of the inaugural Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) from well-lit indoor stadiums across the nation showed that action and entertainment when packaged properly could attract spectators anywhere.

The PKL ended in a blaze of glory for Jaipur Pink Panthers, which defeated U Mumba (35-24) in a thrilling final at the packed Vallabhai Patel Stadium (NSCI) recently.

Patna Pirates finished third, defeating Bengaluru Bulls 29-22.

The players showed courage and skill, tenacity and technique in a home-and-away league format night after night, followed by knockout games to determine the top four teams. Jaipur Pink Panthers upped its game in the semifinals and final to emerge a clear winner. U Mumba, on the other hand, ran out of attacking options in the final against a defence that was rock solid.

Captained by Navneet Gautam, the Jaipur outfit gave its owner, actor Abhishek Bachchan, plenty of occasions to launch into fist-pumping celebrations. After being tripped by U Mumba in the event’s opener, the Jaipur franchise, coached by Kashinathan Baskaran, came into its own in the league stage before gathering momentum in the knockout phase.

Maninder Singh’s physical presence, Jasvir Singh’s attitude at every raiding opportunity, all-rounder Rajesh Narwal’s efficiency in offence and defence, and the technique deployed by the catchers, Prashant Chavan and Ran Singh, stood out in Pink Panthers’ victory over the Mumbai franchise. It did not matter that none of these performers from the champion team figured in PKL’s individual award winners list. What was significant though was that the Jaipur franchise gelled well as a team to claim the biggest prize and its players turned celebrities on returning home.

Fans queuing up to watch matches in indoor stadiums and families turning on their televisions at prime time to enjoy the live telecasts of the matches were the order of the day during the PKL. Some of the players even started getting calls from relatives and friends enquiring about their team’s match schedule.

As part of its build-up, one of the franchises, Puneri Paltans, conducted a tournament featuring kabaddi teams from Pune. The incentive for the winner of the tournament was a match against the Paltans. Because of this simple initiative, participants of the tournament turned into followers of the team and travelled to the Balewadi Stadium for Paltans’ home games. Some even travelled to Mumbai for Paltans’ away matches.

Kabaddi is quite popular in rural Maharashtra and is played regularly during festivals in villages along with wrestling in mud pits. In nearby towns and cities, political leaders often capitalise on the craze for kabaddi among the youth to celebrate birthdays and attract vote banks.

Rahul Chaudhari (TOP) of Telugu Titans is carried by team-mates as they celebrate on defeating Delhi Dabang in a league match. He later won the best raider award.-K. R. DEEPAK

The PKL has helped change the perception of the sport and its performers. People now realise that more than being a healthy pastime for the village youth, kabaddi can offer a sporting career.

The news about players staying in five-star hotels and travelling to the match venues in luxury cars aroused curiosity all round. With good money on offer for the players — from the time they were picked at the auction to earning prize money after each match — it was a case of fantasy turning into reality for the youngsters.

Anup Kumar was named the Most Valuable Player of the League. The U Mumba captain averaged five raids per match and earned respect for performances under pressure when the key raider, Shabeer Sharafudheen, suffered an injury. Calm and composed, he kept his emotions in check and operated like a true leader.

Manjit Chillar of Bengaluru Bulls tries to pin down Sukesh Hegde of Telugu Titans in a league match. Manjit was voted the best catcher.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Anup top-scored with 11 raid points in the final against Jaipur Pink Panthers. The Indian team’s vice-captain, true to his reputation, displayed consistency and led U Mumba by example.

Other individual award winners were Rahul Chaudhari (best raider) and Manjit Chillar (best catcher). Rahul of Telugu Titans scored a record 25 points in a single PKL match, against U Mumba in Visakhapatnam. The 21-year-old raider also became the first to cross the 100-point mark, accumulating 151.

Manjit of Bengaluru Bulls emerged the outstanding catcher, his speciality being the ankle-hold. He also functioned as an all-rounder.