Editor’s note: This article was originally published early on in the seventh season of Pro Kabaddi. On October 2, he broke the record for registering the most raid points in a single league match.

Last year was where Pawan Sehrawat announced himself to the world in style. Scoring a season-high record tally of 282 points, he was the driving force behind Bengaluru Bulls’ title triumph – their first in history apart from shattering multiple records in a staggering season.

Heading into season 7, the Delhi youngster has gone about his business as usual from where he left in 2018. Blessed with a street smartness and the ability to raid from both sides of the mat complimented by his astounding agility, the youngster looks hungry for more.

As it was first seen in during their title-winning season, Pawan Sehrawat once again has been spearheading the Bulls’ raider department ahead of captain Rohit Kumar and is relishing playing that role. He has scored the most points (28) for the Karnataka-based franchise in their three matches so far.

While it remains to be seen if Pawan Sehrawat goes on to replicate his feats from last season, his ascension to the top has come after a roller-coaster ride.

As a chubby kid, Pawan Sehrawat wasn’t very serious about kabaddi when he grew up in his village Bhawana, Delhi. He was a bit on the heavier side and although his weight was not ideal for playing the sport, he took it up because of the joy it brought him. Back then during school, he was not being coached by anyone but was still performing well during inter-zonal tournaments.

“I didn’t fall in love with kabaddi at the start, it happened much later,” he told Scroll.in.

“During those days, there was no weight category and the PT teacher selected me because of my size. I just had some weight. And when you’re heavy, you generally have power. I remember getting a raider out. I fell on him and got a point. It struck me that time that ‘Well, this game is so easy, I can play it’,” he said.

The struggle

That’s when the journey began and he took up an interest in the game. He found a coach in Shiv Kumar but his practice sessions were conducted only in Kheda village, a distant 7-8 kilometers away from Bhawana. Despite the long and arduous journey, Pawan Sehrawat would wake up at 3 am, cycle the long route and reach practice by around 4 am with a bunch of other teammates. At times only a few would accompany him. He made sure he did not miss any session even when the going got tough.

Hailing from a lower-middle-class family, there was even a time when Pawan Sehrawat’s financial situation back home deteriorated after his father’s business shut down.

But those early mornings paid off.

“Even during my struggles, I remained persistent. I was not alone but when the weather got rough or when it came to selection [for nationals], a few players from my group backed out. Sometimes, there were only one, two guys left to travel along with. Going to practice was manageable but the return journey was so taxing. After practices, we were drained but I pushed myself. So that was good hard work for me and it improved my stamina as well,” the 23-year-old recalled.

The young raider’s graph peaked from there. He went on to play in School Nationals, then at the University level before catching Bengaluru Bulls coach Randhir Singh Sehrawat’s eye during the trials for Northern Railways.

As luck would have it, Randhir Sehrawat landed him a job in Indian Railways and also drafted Pawan Sehrawat into Pro Kabaddi through the New Young Player category in season 3.

“No one brought him [Pawan] to me. During the [railway] trials there were many good players present all over the country like Deepak Niwas Hooda and Sandeep Narwal. When I saw Pawan, his movements were very good and he was quick. The talent was there but it needed a bit more polish. That’s when my attention turned to him and I felt that this guy can become something. I later found out that he is from a poor background,” Randhir recalled.

The disappointment

Pawan Sehrawat’s debut Pro Kabaddi season was impressive by most standards. In the first year, he emerged as the team’s lead raider with 45 points. The youngster’s fortunes took a turn for the worse the following two seasons. In his second season with the Bulls, he fell down the pecking order and when Pawan Sehrawat signed for Gujarat Fortunegiants in season 5, most of his time was spent warming the benches.

The two frustrating seasons brought him so much heartache that he was on the verge of leaving the game.

“Season 5 with Gujarat changed me. I got a little more mature. Uske pehle bachpana tha, jyada serious nahi le raha tha main kabaddi [Before that I wasn’t playing kabaddi with any seriousness]. I was not even performing well nor getting enough chances, so I was feeling low.

“I told coach [Randhir] that I am leaving Kabaddi because I have no future here. Koi mujhe kharidne nahi wala, isse acha mein khud piche hatt jaaun [No franchise is going to purchase me, so it’s better than I step back first]. Enough is enough,” Pawan Sehrawat said.

Pawan Sehrawat and Bengaluru Bulls coach Randhir Singh Sehrawat (Photo credit: Pro Kabaddi)

However, Randhir Sehrawat convinced his protege to change his decision and promised to buy him back for Bengaluru Bulls before the season 6 auctions.

“He [Randhir] gave me his assurance, saying that I am there, I will buy you. He told me to just keep practising and develop my skills. He introduced a few changes to my game. I also started focusing on training,” Pawan revealed.

The turning point

Once a raider who mostly relied on his running hand touch, Pawan Sehrawat added more skills to his repertoire. He mastered the dubki, the turn, the jump in a short amount of time. That year he shone in the 65th Kabaddi National Championship and the 2018 Federation Cup for Indian Railways.

When the season six auctions took place, Bengaluru broke the bank to acquire Pawan Sehrawat for Rs 52.8 lakhs – nearly four times the money compared to what Gujarat had paid for him the season before.

“Scouts from all 12 teams were present at the Federation Cup. All franchises noticed that this is not the Pawan we know from before but a totally different player. If we buy him now, then maybe he might do something. But coach [Randhir] gave me his word and I had to stay true to it,” he said.

The rest, as they say, is history. Pawan emerged as the cream of the crop from Pro Kabaddi season six and his heroics steered Bengaluru Bulls to the title.

He also topped the league for most total points (282), most raid points (271) and was crowned Pro Kabaddi’s Most Valuable Player for the first time – dethroning back-to-back MVP Pardeep Narwal, who finished with 49 total points less.

“Before the season began, I told myself, ‘No one is going to buy you after this. The audience has been watching me for so many years and I am not doing anything special. Why will any franchise buy me?

“Bengaluru Bulls had paid me well, so I wanted to show that I’m worth the money and just repay the trust the coach instilled in me,” Pawan Sehrawat added.

Once an outcast, the youngster is now among Pro Kabaddi’s hottest emerging players. His flamboyant aura and the unpredictability factor surrounding his talent has seen him emerge as a nightmare for defenders in the league.

While there’s still a long way to go for the fleet-footed raider before he can establish himself as the best in the business, he isn’t dwelling on the past anymore. In a career that has witnessed many highs and lows, Pawan Sehrawat acknowledges his dream to represent the country someday.

“I am not thinking about the past. The bad days that I had to face are over now. I just want to keep playing for Bengaluru Bulls and like last year lead them to the title again. It’s every player’s dream to play for India and I hope someday that’ll come true,” he concluded.