The role of a captain differs according to the sport. In cricket, the captain’s decisions have the potential to decide the game and it is he who sometimes takes the fall for a defeat. On the other hand, the captain in football is tasked with being a role model in the dressing room while team decisions are often the responsibility of the coach. Basketball teams don’t have any fixed captains at all many a times. Which bracket does kabaddi belong to?
According to U Mumba captain Anup Kumar, a kabaddi captain has to be able to ensure that he keeps the players calm and motivated. “If the captain doesn’t motivate the team, it will be very difficult (to win),” he said.
There are few who can explain the captain’s role in a kabaddi team better than Anup. He has led the Indian team to a World Cup title and has been part of numerous Asian Cup victories. In Pro Kabaddi League – country’s professional league now into its fifth season – he has won the league title once with U Mumba.
More than the statistics, though, Anup’s status as the torch bearer of kabaddi in India can be seen in the way Indian players approach him. Regardless of whether they are playing for U Mumba or not, he is first greeted with a ‘namaste Anup bhai’ and then the player touches his feet. Anup responds by stopping them midway, almost sheepishly, and locking them in an embrace before asking if they were doing well that day.
So is the kabaddi captain supposed to only keep his players motivated, a big responsibility in itself, or also supposed to be the man to make the decisions? A bit of both is what one can infer from Anup’s explanation. “If the captain is good, level headed, can understand the flow of the game very well, then he can keep the defence and raiding department on top of their game,” he said. “For example, a good captain understands what an opposition raider’s style of play is and tells his defenders to go or not go for tackles accordingly. He also knows where the opposition’s defence is loose and asks his raider to play accordingly.”
Anup had said in an interview to a prominent publication that he expects Kabaddi to overtake cricket in the next four to five years. Is the Kabaddi captain also tasked with making decisions like his counterpart in cricket? “Decisions have to made quickly in Kabaddi. Our game is such that we have just a 30-second window,” he said, “In those 30 seconds we have to see how the opponents are lining up their defence. Decisions are more spontaneous in nature. Otherwise being a captain of a kabaddi team is just like being captain in any other sport in my opinion.”
It is easy to understand that a Pro Kabaddi match is designed for the fans’ entertainment. The fans do get behind their team, mostly the home side and get on the back of the opposition. How does the captain ensure that his players are unaffected by the negative chants? For that, Kumar says, the skipper has to ensure that he keeps calm first. “I think positively. I listen to those who support me. I see that these are the people that are with me in the stands, they are cheering for me and my team. Then, absolutely no problem, I give my everything.”
There are times when players come under pressure because of the fans expecting them to do well but Anup says that he blocks those emotions off. “I don’t come under pressure because there are many people cheering for me. On the other hand, I ask my players to be motivated by their chants instead of worrying if they will say things like, oh we cheered for him so much and still he didn’t perform,” he said before summing himself up in the best way possible, “Mai tension bilkul nai leta ji (I don’t take tension).”
That aspect could be seen very clearly on Friday. His U Mumba side were handed a 21-33 hammering by Puneri Paltan in the opening match of the Pro Kabaddi League season 5. He then came into the media room for the post match press conference, sat down with a sigh and a smile and said, “Haa bhai, shuru karte hai. (Alright! Let’s begin!)”
He has been part of the sport for a considerable period and experience always helps in controlling a shivering hand. Anup says that he tries to keep the younger players calm after such a defeat by just giving them company. “Well, we lost the match and then we had dinner together, sat together, had breakfast together. I tell them that this is the start of the tournament,” he said, “If we keep in mind that we have lost this first match, it will become difficult to play such a long season. Instead, we have to think ‘okay we didn’t get off to a good start’. We couldn’t do well in front of those cheering for us. It is important to make players forget about such matches and focus on the next one. So I joke around with them, ensure that they remain united and do not repeat the mistakes they made this time.”