The Telugu Titans owner raised the paddle to propose an increase in the bid, and the humble Rs 30 lakh base price for Siddharth Desai was pushed up to an even Rs 1 crore in a statement opening move.
But that was expected.
The chatter had grown in the banquet hall of a Mumbai hotel when Desai’s name was called for the next bid. The way the 27-year-old fared last season — his first in Pro Kabaddi League — he was bound to be hot property.
And as the tug-of-war between the franchises ended with the Titans bagging the star raider for a whopping Rs 1.45 crore — the second-highest sum ever recorded at a PKL auction after the 1.51 crore bid for Monu Goyat last year — Desai is now the PKL’s highest earner this term.
“We just wanted people to know that we are prepared for this bid,” Titans owner Srinivas Shreeramaneni explained the raise during the auction despite the fact that Desai had undergone shoulder surgery in February.
On the other side of the city, Desai was ecstatic.
“Naachne ke liye khada ho gaya,” he says, barely able to find the words. “I was expecting maybe 70-80 lakh.”
It’s a rapid rise in the price tag for a player who last year had been purchased by U Mumba for Rs 36.4 lakh. Then again, his fame rocketed when he first took to the PKL court.
Desai was an unknown last year, making his debut in a league that has seen players shoot to fame while still in their teens. But one could tell in the way his 6-foot-2 frame would bulldoze through defenders, waltz back to the half-line with touch points at will, and almost single-handedly carry his team to victory time and again, that he would be a prime target soon.
Remarkably, for his prowess on the mat, the man from Chandgadh in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra only truly focused his energy on the sport five years ago, when the PKL was launched.
“I used to play before, but not professionally. I used to play in local tournaments on mud courts,” he explains. “When the PKL started, that’s when I started taking it seriously and moved to Pune to train at a club.”
What worked in his favour was that Desai was already a fitness freak, but only because he wanted to ‘look good.’
“I was crazy about fitness since I was in Class 10,” he recalls. “I wanted to look nice, big and muscular, and didn’t really do it for sport. So I used to do a log of gym work and strength training.”
It also helped that as a child, he’d help his parents toil on the family’s sugarcane and rice farm by pulling out weeds, which helped him strengthen his upper body and give him the explosive burst of pace in his lower limbs that saw him notch 218 raid points in his debut season. En route, Desai also became the joint record holder with Rahul Chaudhari for being the fastest to reach a 100 raid points in the PKL — in only eight matches.
Getting to the elite league proved to be quite a task. His elder brother Suraj was by far the more serious kabaddi player in the family and had even found a job for himself in the Services through the sports quota. Suraj, in fact, had been selected for the PKL a year before his brother, but was ruled out of the season due to injury.
Siddharth, meanwhile, had found a spot for himself in the Maharashtra team that would win the 2018 national title. “I remember seeing him briefly during that nationals,” recalls Bhaskaran Edachery, coach of the Tamil Thalaivas. “He didn’t get a big role to play since it was his first time and there were other big names in the team, but you could notice a spark in him.”
That spark came to the fore last year in the PKL. An unpredictable raider who had the unique ability of raiding from either side of the court, Desai was an instant hit.
The kabaddi world will now want to see how the Kolhapur sensation performs in his second season. But he was always going to be in the limelight, regardless of how much he fetched at the auction.