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Season five of Pro Kabaddi was preceded by an auction in which almost all players ended up with new teams and teammates to cope with. Some joined new teams after being with one for the past four seasons while some were entirely new to the league itself. Despite that there have been few teams that have shown no signs of being made of players wearing their jerseys for the first time. Puneri Paltan have been a prime example of this. They have two wins off two matches so far and have been a solid defensive unit in both. Veteran defender Dharmaraj Cheralathan has been a tour de force for them.
Keeping the team together
Cheralathan has accumulated six tackle points this season. He believes that a good defensive unit is made only if the players know each other’s games well. “During a match every player makes mistakes. We make adjustments according to that,” he said in a conversation with IndianExpress.com. At 42, Cheralathan is the oldest player currently active in the league. He has played with Telugu Titans, Bengaluru Bulls and Patna Pirates before this but he says that playing with new players is no big deal for him. “This is a habit for me now,” says Cheralathan, “Even while playing for Railways or the national team, it is the case that, everybody comes from different parts of the country. They speak different languages. New players are always coming into the teams. Even if the team consists of players that don’t know each other at all, we can adjust and play well together.”
Kabaddi is a sport that takes a toll on the body of the player. For example, Rakesh Kumar has thus far had an anonymous season with the Telugu Titans. The 35-year-old Kumar, like Cheralathan, has been a stalwart for Indian Kabaddi for over a decade now and the wear and tear of a long career is now showing. But Cheralathan has remained a vital part of any team he has played for. Even as he walks towards you and shakes your hand with his vice-like grip, you know that the man standing in front of you is in the prime of his fitness.
He said that he has tweaked his diet regimes and his approach towards fitness as his age advanced. He says that during “normal times” i.e., off seasons, he concerns himself with remaining fit rather than concentrating on his game practice. “Movement comes automatically if you stay fit. So I try to stay fit more than working on my moves or anything,” he said, “I have also made a few changes to my diet. I used to eat a lot of non-vegetarian food earlier but now I avoid that.” Cheralathan says that he spends his off season shifting time between his job in the railways, his family and training. “It is different now,” he says when asked about how he is perceived at his workplace, “Everyone recognises me now. I try to avoid all that and do my work.”