What led you to take up kabaddi?
I started playing Kabaddi at the age of 16. I participated in local tournaments initially to earn money and support my sister as we had lost our parents at a very young age. While playing in the local tournaments I developed an interest in Kabaddi and aspired to be a part of the National team.
Your journey to Pro Kabbadi league
I got selected for Telugu Titans after playing senior level tournament in Patna in 2014. I was part of the Telugu Titans in Season 1 and 2 of the Pro Kabaddi League. I was roped in by Puneri Paltan in season 3 and since then have been with them. I was the only player retained by management from last season. This year I will also be playing the role of captain for Puneri Paltan.
Toughest team & player you have faced this season
As the captain of Puneri Paltan, I cannot underestimate any team. All the teams and all the players are our contenders for the title and we work equally hard to play against all the teams.
How much has Pro kabaddi league changed kabaddi in India
India was a cricket crazy country. With the beginning of Pro Kabaddi League, there was a huge change. The league was packaged in a way where it appealed to the audience. Young and talented Kabaddi players got a lot of exposure, financial stability and more importantly respect. After the invent of PKL, many people are considering a career in Kabaddi. As per studies, Kabaddi is now the second most watched sport after cricket. The reason for me being recognized today by fans is Pro Kabaddi League.
Your ambition for the current season
The Puneri Paltan management has shown a lot of faith in me by appointing me as the captain for PKL season 5. As the captain of Puneri Paltan, my ambition is to win the team’s maiden title this year in PKL season 5.
Where do you think your team has to improve, if they have to challenge for the championship.
Our team is a strong team both on paper and on field. In many matches, we lead by a significant number of points till the second half. It is in the last 10-15 minutes of the match we lose out on points.
How do you feel when you play alongside Dharmaraj Cheralathan?
We call him Anna. In Tamil, it means elder brother and by all means I see him like that. He has been playing Kabaddi for almost 20 years now. I admire the way he maintains his fitness as I am also a fitness freak. Anna has a lot of experience in Kabaddi, many times I sit with him and take tips from him, for strategy, planning etc.,
Your World Cup Dreams
It is the dream of every player to be a part of the National squad, represent and win laurels for his country. My biggest achievement till date is being the part of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup Squad that won. I hope to represent India in future Kabaddi World Cups, Asian Games and South Asian Games and win gold.
Your thoughts on Mr. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore being elected as the sports minister.
Mr. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is a renowned Olympic silver medallist who has brought pride to the nation. I am extremely thrilled to know about the ‘Khelo India Initiative’ he has in pipeline, which will work for the development of athletes, stadiums and sports in our nation.
If you had to make a biopic on one Kabaddi player, who would that be and why?
I think our coach BC Ramesh sir would be an ideal person to be featured in a biopic. His journey has been amazing and now he runs a Kabaddi academy too in Bangalore. He is a very understanding coach and guides us the right way because of which our team is doing well in the league.
As kabaddi is more of an aggressive game, how do you maintain your composure on ground?
My game was a bit rough when I started playing. But today, after being appointed as the captain, I feel responsible, not only for myself but for my team as well. I now know that even if the game gets rough and aggressive, I should not be impulsive. We as a team also do meditation and yoga to build concentration and keep ourselves calm. Yoga helps me to channelize my energy better.
How is the atmosphere in the Puneri Paltan’s dressing room
Our dressing room has a different aura. While entering the dressing room, we are individuals. While walking out of it, we all are one – team Puneri Paltan.
What is the atmosphere during India vs Pakistan Kabaddi match?
The atmosphere during India vs Pakistan match is electrifying. The audience goes gaga be it the ones in the stadium or the ones watching on TV.
Would you like to change the rules in Kabaddi to make it more attractive to the audience?
No. The Pro Kabaddi League has repackaged the sport in an appealing way. The format is shorter than 20-20 cricket match. Each match lasts only for 40 minutes, so the attention span of viewers is high.
Your future plans for kabaddi
I hope Kabaddi will soon be part of the Olympics. When that happens I want to represent India on an international platform and win gold for my nation.
Message to Puneri Paltan’s army (fans)
The fame and respect that I have earned today has all come from our fans. Our fans are our pillar of strength. Whenever we feel dejected after losing a match, we think of our fans and get motivated to do better for them. I want to thank all Puneri Paltan fans for their constant encouragement and support.
Message to your opponents
I am always in the quest to better myself and my opponents help me do just the same. I am thankful to them because somewhere they have helped me become what I am today.