All eyes will be on Pardeep Narwal on Monday as the Pro Kabaddi auctions proceed with the foreign player and elite domestic player categories.
The Haryana raider is the biggest name in the auction list after he was released by Patna Pirates with whom he spent five seasons and won the title thrice.
Narwal is the top points scorer in the brief history of the tournament and will be on everyone’s radar when the auctions for the Elite Domestic Player category begin on Monday.
Monu Goyat’s record of being the most expensive player at the Pro Kabaddi auctions is under threat as Narwal is probably the most impactful player to be in the auction pool for a long time.
The 24-year-old was retained by the Pirates during the earlier auctions and this will be the first time his services will be up for grabs for all the teams.
Narwal though, who has always been largely indifferent to the limelight he has been thrust into since his heroics helped Patna win the first title in 2016, is maintaining a typical calm ahead of the auctions.
“I haven’t really thought about breaking the auction record. My primary focus is on how I perform and deliver my best,” Narwal told Scroll.in.
Narwal like other kabaddi players were heavily affected by the Covid-19 lockdown. With no competitions even at a local level for large parts of 2020, it was a challenge for players to not just stay fit but also make sure they don’t lose their skills.
For kabaddi players, the best way to remain on top of their game is to play matches. The longer you stay away from the mat, the more difficult it is to regain your best level.
But Narwal sensed an opportunity even in crisis. Being a raider in the modern kabaddi, there is an ever-escalating need to reinvent yourself and the lockdown presented an opportunity for him to work on adding to his moves.
“I’ve been working hard on my raiding skills during the lockdown. Hopefully, wherever I go, I can put that to practice,” he said.
“It was necessary for me to work on my game as the new season will be tougher as all other players would have done the same. So the challenge will be higher,” he added.
Narwal has no regrets over being released by the Pirates and is eagerly awaiting his next destination.
“Patna Pirates are a great franchise and my stint with them helped me learn a lot,” he said.
“But I am happy that I will be exposed to newer experiences that will help build on my skills. Now it’s time to apply whatever I have trained for in the lockdown and perform even better in the matches to come. My eyes are set on being the top scorer again,” he added.
Narwal is a natural talent and he doesn’t like to complicate matters when it comes to his training or diet. Even with exposure to new dietary regimes, he has stuck with what has worked for him all through his career.
“I eat home-cooked food. That’s the best diet anyone can have. It’s balanced with pulses and vegetables. There is no special diet,” he said.
“What works for me is discipline. In the lockdown, it was a constant theme for me. I was very particular about avoiding food that will harm my game. I may not be into advanced diets but I also make sure I never cheat. As a sportsman, I feel being able to train well is important not just for my game but also mental well-being,” he added.
Pro Kabaddi will return after a two-year gap in December which will be a major boost for the kabaddi players who haven’t been part of many top-level competitions apart from the senior nationals since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year.
The eighth edition of the league that was supposed to be held last year was postponed due to the pandemic.
The auctions are always a reason for excitement in his hometown Rindhana, a small village near Sonipat. Despite the small size of the village, it’s a major kabaddi hotbed. Being the home of the Narwals, Rindhana probably has representation in nearly every Pro Kabaddi team.
Pardeep is the latest big star of the place that has produced Asian Games gold medallists.
“The support that I have always received my family, friends and my village is extremely motivating – it never changes, it has only grown over the years. They are my strength and I owe them my success,” he said.
“Spirits are high back home like they always are during the auctions and the village is extremely proud of how I’ve fared to date. I have their blessings and am all set for this season,” he added.
Narwal will probably sit top of every team’s wishlist in the auctions given what he’s achieved in Pro Kabaddi so far, but with added skills and improved fitness, the best may still be ahead of the wily raider.
The auction room is always a frantic place, but when Pardeep Narwal’s name shows up, all hell may break loose.