I mean in the names of the players. Their origins are on display and they are men from simple peasant stock. This shows also in the way that they speak when interviewed. Thick north Indian accents abound. “Bilkul amajing hai” one player said before a match. Two team captains are police inspectors from Haryana.
The other thing that is interesting is the way they look. Kabaddi players do not resemble our cricketers. This is not a sport where one can get away purely on talent with the unfit and chubby Tendulkar-Gavaskar type of body.
Kabaddi players tend to be of a particular height, about 5'8", and around 78 kg. Let’s go through the list of captains to demonstrate this. Bangalore’s Manjit Chillar is 5’7” and 80 kg, Mumbai’s Anup Kumar is 5’9” and 80 kg, Jaipur’s Navneet Gautam is 6’ and 80 kg, Patna’s Rakesh Kumar is 5’9 and 78 kg, Bengal’s Nilesh Shinde is 5’8” and 79 kg, Hyderabad’s Rajaguru Subramanian is 5’8” and 77 kg, Delhi’s Jasmer Singh is 5’6” and 78 kg, Pune’s Wazir Singh is 5’6” and 83 kg.
There is no shortage of Punjabis and Haryanvis who are 6'3" and 100 kg and can crawl 20 metres with three men on their back. That there is not a single man of those dimensions in any team leads me to suspect that this height-weight thing has to do with some optimum kabaddi size. A centre of gravity issue, or a strength versus agility thing. All the players are medium-build and stocky and – here’s some armchair sociology – this body type makes it easy for the South to participate. There are quite a few Southerners, including a 39-year-old (inevitably nicknamed Anna) in the Bangalore team.
Something else struck me after watching kabaddi for a second night. Here is a game that could become our version of basketball. A made-for-TV sport that is tough and exciting and followed nationally, with encounters short enough to be watched over a couple of beers. A physical sport that leaves one with a sort of satisfaction that cricket often doesn’t. This was especially true after watching the first match on Sunday, a terrific contest between Bangalore and Pune.
The show opened with the usual celebrity interviews. After the Khans and Big B on Saturday, however, the standard plummeted and we had Rakesh Omprakash Mehra and Nakul Vaid (I don’t know either) and Karan Patel (no relation).
Of course there also was the one celebrity who could be relied upon for a quote. “Although the Pink Panthers aren't playing today, we're here for Ronnie, and for the U Mumbai team and to support kabaddi,” said Abhishek Bachchan. Achcha. I was clearly wrong to think he came because he doesn't have much work.
The other irritating thing is that Star has decided to play the national anthem before every match, so that is twice in one night. As a result, the chanting is in the same dreary atmosphere as in cinema halls, where it is inflicted on revellers who have gathered for something else.
Once it began, however, as I said, it was an outstanding match and had me so riveted that the ice cubes melted and diluted the good liquid in my untouched glass.
The match was won by Bangalore, the work of a superb raider called Ajay Thakur, who did most of the offensive work for his team. He had a calm and lethal manner, picking up a point or two every time he went over. Explaining his team’s win on Saturday, Thakur said simply: “Hum sab 80-up the”. (We were each of us over 80 kilos). A man to watch out for in this tournament.
Sunday’s match was actually a close run thing and with 10 minutes to go, Pune were tied 30-30, mainly because of plenty of penalty points picked up in the first half. But then some tactical play by Bangalore (explained lucidly by commentator Suhail Chandhok, racing driver Karan’s brother) took the match away.
You should give watching Pro Kabaddi a try. Though some of the rules are recent inventions, and sometimes things are not easy to understand, the game is never boring. I thought it might be, when I saw Saturday’s matches, but Star appear to be cleaning up their act and telecasting it the right away.
One crib I have is the uniforms. Mumbai is red, Kolkata is orange, Jaipur is pink, Bangalore is orange-ish, Pune is red-ish. There is a sameness to many of them and the raider often doesn’t particularly stand out from the defenders. It doesn't appear as if there was any coordination in designing the uniforms, or a home/away kit of different colour.
Star should change this.
Rule of the day: When a team down to three men catches a raider, it wins two points instead of one.
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