On Friday, both matches ended 38 to 35 and that is how it usually goes. Matches are tight, the gap between the teams is not that much, and it is the unusual match, for instance Saturday’s 40 to 18 trouncing of Patna by Jaipur, where the difference is noticeably wide. Often the match goes into the last raid undecided, and that is of course good for the spectator.
One reason for the closeness of the matches is that the quality of the players is quite even. There is really no “Sachin Tendulkar of kabaddi”, though the commentators refer to Rakesh Kumar by that epithet.
Yes, many raiders are quite efficient. Mumbai’s Shabir Bapu Sharfuddeen and Anup Kumar, the Korean Jang Kun Lee for Kolkata and of course Rakesh Kumar himself. But it isn’t as if they are utterly dominant or that when they play well their side inevitably wins.
It is unusual for one person, however talented, to take the game away because of a couple of things. The first is that the raider, and all the stars of kabaddi are raiders, must always alone contend with a group of people. It is possible that he will succeed much of the time. But since combat is not one-on-one, his opponents always hold the advantage if the raider is intent on scoring, and therefore taking risks far from his safety line.
The second thing is that each time he crosses the centre of the court, the raider requires 180 degree vision, which humans don’t have. And so the raider must swing his head about to locate the threat, which is seeking to move behind him. This makes the game dynamic and constantly shifting. When one understands this, kabaddi becomes a truly great sport to watch even before the grapple because one can appreciate the manner in which the raider is able to keep the threat in his field of vision.
One happy fallout of this, the inability of individuals to dominate, is the equality in pay.
Rakesh Kumar is the most expensive player in Pro Kabaddi and his team paid Rs 12.8 lakh for him at the auction. To see how closely matched in quality kabaddi players are, we need only look at what some of the others were paid. There are 13 players in all who got more than Rs 10 lakh but did not get as much as Rakesh. The man who got second most, Deepak Nivas of Vizag, who was paid Rs 12.6 lakh, has never actually played for India, nor has Kashiling Adake of Delhi, who got Rs 10 lakh.
Then there were four other players, from Pakistan, who were bought for about half that amount. I suspect that had they been from another nation their rate would have gone up. It remained low not for prejudice but because the owners were probably uncertain about whether their Pakistanis would be allowed to play, given the episodic outbursts against them, particularly in Mumbai.
It might interest the reader to know that three of the Pakistani players (Waseem Sajjad of Patna, Nasir Ali of Jaipur and Wajid Ali of Vizag) are serving soldiers. The first two with the Pakistan army and Ali with the Navy. The fourth Pakistani, Atif Waheed, also of Vizag, works for the government. The most expensive foreign player is Patna’s Tae Deok Eom, who got Rs 7 lakh.
This is not much money compared to what cricketers get, of course, and it would be petty to say that it should be seen in light of the brief (less than 40 days) period that they are expected to play. It is no shorter than cricket’s IPL where the money is 100 times greater or more for many players. But even so, I think it is quite good money for the first year, and my guess is that it will be about double the next time.
Each Pro Kabaddi team has 12 players, meaning that there are 96 players in the league. As I have written before, most of these are people who are from the lower middle class. As the league expands, and I am sure it will, perhaps as soon as next year, it will make the sport more popular in schools. It will also make professionals of strong young men who did not think they could make a living in sport off their bodies.
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