As you drive into Hyderabad’s Gachibowli Stadium, it becomes easy to guess who is the face of the Telugu Titans. Captain Rahul Chaudhari stares out of every poster around the stadium alongwith a few of his team mates. In their first match of Pro Kabaddi season 5, the Titans were up against league newcomers Tamil Thalaivas.
Thalaivas are led by Ajay Thakur, a name that is recognisable to anyone who has followed Kabaddi over a year and a half. Thakur was one of the architects of India’s World Cup triumph in 2016 and is rated as one of the best raiders in the sport. “Itne lambe haath hai,” is what the comperer had said to introduce Thakur in the unveiling of the league trophy a day before the match.
Yet, on Friday, Thakur was only a shadow of what he was in the World Cup. Both he and Chaudhari started on an equal footing. They both returned with empty raids the first time they went to the opposition side of the mat and scored points the second time. Thakur then received a Green Card and that was followed by empty raids from both the captains.
Then came the moments that would prove decisive in the match. While Thakur could not score points, Chaudhari took Titans to the lead and, with considerable help from Nilesh Salunke, kept the momentum going. 10 minutes into the match, Thakur and his team mates were in complete disarray while their opponents raced to an 8-5 lead. An unsuccessful raid from Chaudhari let the Thalaivas claw back and they eventually leveled the proceedings. But the Titans worked quickly and took a 14-8 lead after inflicting an all-out. Chaudhari then scored three points in a mere two minutes and the Titans ended the first half with an 18-11 lead. While making way for his team, the 24-year old star raider registered his 25th ‘Super 10’.
While Chaudhari was on the forefront for his side, Thakur was anywhere but. The defensive astuteness of Vishal Bharadwaj seemed to have taken him by surprise in the beginning of the match. In subsequent raids, he seemed almost unsure of himself. Chaudhari, meanwhile eased to another league Super 10. Nilesh Salunke ended with seven points and Bharadwaj trapped Thakur and other Thalaiva raiders. Thalaivas attempted a fightback towards the end but it was too little too late.