Sachin Tanwar did not have many big dreams growing up.
He comes from a farming family in Churu, Rajasthan, middling his way through school. He enjoyed spending time with his friends and bunking his classes to play sports with not a care in the world.
And then he got a glimpse of kabaddi in real time. He had visited his uncle, Rakesh Chauhan, a kabaddi player for the Indian Railways, and went to watch a match. Suddenly, Tanwar had an aim.
The excitement of the sport caught his fancy, and his uncle’s encouragement got him on the path of playing the game.
Today, the 24-year-old player for the Patna Pirates is one of the most consistent and effective raiders in the Pro Kabaddi League.
“I have had a lot of injuries, but [the sport] is a big part of my life now,” Tanwar told Scroll.
And he is not the only one from his family who has made it to kabaddi’s marquee event. His older brother Deepak Kumar, 28, is his teammate in the Patna-franchise.
But for Tanwar, until he made it to the nationals, his family did not believe that the sport was be a worthwhile option for him.
“I used to go to play [kabaddi] in the ground secretly, by bunking school,” he said, laughing as he recalled. “When I would get injured, my mother would tell me to focus on my studies. One day, I came home late from playing and that’s how my family found out and scolded me.”
It was only once he had started playing at the district level did his family have a change of heart.
It has been a steady progression through the age groups for Tanwar, who also plays for the Rajasthan Police team along with his brother.
On an international level, Tanwar has already tasted success as a captain of the junior men’s team, winning gold at the Junior Asian Championships in 2016. He would then go on to graduate to the senior men’s team in 2017 and win gold at the senior Asian Championships that year – he also made his PKL debut that same season.
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“We used to watch Ajay (Thakur) and Manjeet (Chhillar) play on the TV,” recalled Tanwar.
“I used to think, ‘When will I go play Pro Kabaddi?’”
In June 2017, Tanwar was picked up by the Gujarat Giants (then called Gujarat Fortunegiants) for a whopping Rs 36 Lakhs in his first season. The dream had been realised.
His impact was immediate as he became his team’s lead raider, scoring a total of 173 and 204 points in his first two seasons respectively. In both seasons, he would finish in the top 10 best raiders with 159 and 190 raid points respectively.
Tanwar’s efforts saw the team reach back-to-back finals, but fall short to the Pirates and Bengaluru Bulls respectively.
It was his unique ability to inflict running touches on the opposition and his height that gave him the advantage over opposition defenders. As is par for the game nowadays, Tanwar has the perfect combination of speed and power that has seen him score 150+ raid points in every PKL season since his debut.
Yet in an era where the likes of Pawan Sehrawat, Naveen Kumar, and Pardeep Narwal are competing, Tanwar has worked quietly under the radar. Quietly, but effectively. And he has been one of the most understated players in the league.
He did face a slight slump in 2019, missing a part of the season due to a knee injury. But when he returned when the league resumed after the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pirates acquired his services.
And got back to where he left off, scoring crucial points, remaining understated, and taking his team to yet another final.
And once again, in the final against Dabang Delhi in February 2022, he ended up with a runners-up medal.
“I feel sad obviously because we worked so hard and we still weren’t able to win,” he said, recalling the Season 8 final. “But it is one of my best memories from PKL. It is my dream to lift the trophy when I reach the final for the fourth time.”
So far, it has been a topsy-turvey season for the Pirates. And the three-time champions are relying on Tanwar’s prowess in attack to make it to the Top 6 playoff spot.
It just goes to show how he has developed over these five years in the PKL. From being a shy and inexperienced player, to being one of the most effective players on the mat.
The Patna raider was also an integral part of the team that reclaimed the gold at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou last year in a tension-filled final against Iran.
A gold in the sports cash-rich league though has eluded him. He’s hoping now that the fourth time will be the charm. And the Pirates will be banking on him to get them to the final, once again.