He spoke with thick Haryanvi accent, lamenting his fate and loss of opportunity. First jolt came during the 2010 Asian Games, where he couldn’t make the cut to represent the Indian national team in Kabaddi. “I didn’t know the criteria the selectors used to choose players. Kisi ke nazron mein koi hero hai toh koi kuch aur (in someone’s eyes some player is a hero, while others are treated differently),” said 27-year-old Wazir Singh, captain of the Puneri Paltan team in the Pro-Kabaddi league. As luck would have it, the 2014 Asian Games also coincided with the Police games so he couldn’t participate again. “I couldn’t believe my luck. Job comes first so I had to forego the bigger event,” said Singh, who is also a police officer. But all that’s going to change very soon.
With the Pro-Kabaddi league slated to start on July 26 in Mumbai, organisers, players and the entire Kabaddi fraternity are betting big on the sport, hoping to make a mark on the audience. Broadly speaking, the league will be based on the IPL T20 formula with eight city teams such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Patna, Vizag, Pune, Jaipur and Delhi. Some of the teams will be owned by well-known faces like media entrepreneur Ronnie Screwala, Kishore Biyani of the Future Group, Abhishek Bachchan and other companies like Murugappa and GMR Group.
Of course, there are questions being raised about the league’s economic viability, but the show hopes to set the cash registers ringing and bring much-needed professionalism into the game that’s considered a ‘rural sport’.
Most players, including Wazir Singh, come from a rural background. Singh belongs to a middle class family in Zind, a village in Haryana. His father is a farmer and didn’t take any interest in Kabaddi until his son was awarded the best player in the 2002 Junior Nationals in Karnataka. “My father gave me a lot of support thereafter and he told me to follow my passion,” he added. Life wasn’t easy for Singh. He spent most of his childhood in a hostel. He used to practice for two hours regularly at the hostel before heading out for school, then come back home, rest for two hours and practise again for three hours straight. “It’s not been easy for me. If you want to achieve anything in life, you have to go through tough times. I’ve had my share and now, I am the only kabbadi player in my village and district participating in the Pro-Kabbadi league.”
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As the captain of the Puneri Paltan, Singh clearly feels the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. He will look to translate his mud-soaked experience into victory for the team. If he has learnt anything from years of training under his mentor Jaswant Singh, it’s to keep calm under pressure. “Every captain wants to hold his team together and move forward. My message to the team is simple: don’t play under pressure, play openly. Mistakes happen, but you shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks,” said Singh.
Coach of the Puneri Paltans Rampal Kaushik has full faith in the captain. He knows him only too well. “Wazir is from CISF only. He’s fast and extremely talented. In fact, he’s been captain of the CISF team for 5 years and won medals four years in a row for CISF,” said Kaushik, whose credibility as a coach is highly valued. He is also the winner of the Best Coach Award 2011 of CISF.
Going forward Singh expects that viewers will eventually warm up to the game. Just like how IPL became a success story, this too will script it’s own. “If people can watch cricket and pick up bats in gullies, I think at least one person will start playing the game,” he said. The future of the game is also looking bright because of the inclusion of two under-19 players in each of the eight teams. Kaushik believes that grassroot level training is crucial for building a strong backbone for Kabaddi. “This is the right direction for the sport. If the younger generation is given opportunities like this it will not only create awareness but also gainful employment in a big way.”
The Pro-Kabbadi league will start tomorrow till 31st August from 8:45 till 10 pm on Star Sports.
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