Rakesh Kumar, a formidable raider of kabaddi’s mud-court and hero of last two Asian Games, has become the most expensive player at the first Pro Kabaddi League auction. The 32-year-old was picked by the Rajesh Shah owned-Patna franchise for Rs 12.8 lakh. Five of the eight teams haggled for the champion player but Patna proved to be the most stubborn, repeatedly cranking up the 4 lakh base price.
Roughly 1000 kilometres away from the auction venue, Rakesh was at the national camp in Bangalore. Known for his calm mind, the two-time Asian Games and double World Cup champion repeatedly chirped “I’m just so happy”, as he struggling to finds words.
Born and brought up in Nizampur, a village in the outskirts of New Delhi, Kumar, son of a farmer, took up the sport in 1997 during his school days. “It was always a big thing in school and a lot of people played it. My elder brother did too, and so I started as well,” he recalls. The then 15-year-old saw a sharp rise in his stature, entering school nationals the following year, played for Delhi, and finally broke into the national team in 2003. He was eventually given the captain’s role, starred in the 2006 Asiad final at Doha, and led the team to the 2010 Asian Games gold. He however missed most of the latter final after an Iranian defender’s knee collided with his head. The result had the captain lying on the sidelines for about 20 minutes, before he was taken to hospital for further examination.
Winning the Arjuna Award in the following year, the Senior Ticket Collector at New Delhi railway station (given his appointment with Indian Railways), had already established himself as a village hero. “Everybody knows me in the village, but it took me some time to start identifying everyone!” he explains. He does however go further to explain that he is more commonly recognised as ‘Munna.’ “If you say ‘Rakesh,’ not many would recognise me. Even some of the national coaches who have seen me grow up call me that,” he proclaims, laughing. He was Munna even when Delhi clinched the National title for the first time in 32 years in 2000 – the same season he debuted and he remains Munna still – now a father to a 2-year-old-son.
At the Pro Kabaddi League, he will turn out for the Patna team under coach, Rambir Singh Khokhar, one of those coaches who have known him since his childhood.
Worth the money
“He has always been a very good player and was well worth the price,” says the coach. “He’s a match winner. Some may think he’s old, but what he has lost in speed because of his age, he makes up for with his experience and movement on court,” says U Mumba coach E Bhaskar, who had also urged his owner to bid for the raider.
As for the hefty price tag, Kumar isn’t worried about the weight of expectations. “I’ve never been rewarded in such a grand manner ever before in my life. I’ve worked hard at the game, and that’s not going to change,” he concludes.