UP Yoddha is just a three-year-old franchise in Pro Kabaddi. In this short time, the team hasn’t quite set the league on fire. The star names in their ranks have often failed to live up to the hype. It will not be a stretch to say that it is not the most popular team in the league.

And yet, Adampur Dadhi, a small village in Bhiwani district of Haryana comes to a standstill when UP Yoddha play in Pro Kabaddi, thanks to Sumit and Nitesh Kumar.

“They (Adampur residents) love us. When we play, they leave their meals aside and just focus on the TV,” Nitesh, the captain and right corner defender of UP Yoddha told Scroll.in.

Nitesh hails from Adampur and at just 22 has already established himself as one of the best players in the league. Having entered Pro Kabaddi in UP Yoddha’s debut campaign, the young defender has grown from strength to strength.

Last season, he was the league’s top-scoring defender and also the first one in the competition’s history to score 100 tackle points in a single season.

If that was not enough of a feel-good story, this season the people of Adampur have more reasons to root for UP Yoddha. Another youngster — Sumit — who is just a year younger to Nitesh, has broken into the team and made the right corner position his own.

UP Yoddha’s rise

After a scratchy start to the season, UP Yoddha found their defensive strength and have been on a great run of results. The childhood chemistry between Nitesh and Sumit has been at the heart of their renaissance.

While Nitesh hasn’t quite replicated the form of last season, Sumit has filled in for his childhood buddy. The 21-year-old has 61 tackle points to his name and boasts the league’s best average of 3.39 tackle points per game.

“Defence in kabaddi is all about combination. It is true even for corners who play at opposite ends of the mat. With Sumit and I, we are very familiar with each other’s games. That has helped our defence a lot,” Nitesh said.

“This season raiders have tried to stay away from me as I have a strong ankle hold. They target Sumit more as he is new. I knew we could make this work in our favour. Sumit too has a great ankle hold and raiders have struggled to score points from there. So when they fail they, try to attack the covers with a running hand touch. That’s when I pounce,” Nitesh explained.

The lack of points in the corner position has meant Nitesh isn’t as prolific as last term but he has been able to make the UP Yoddha defence tick with tweaks in his game. That would have been harder to execute had it not been for an opposite corner he trusts.

Just like Nitesh, who was drafted into the league through Pro Kabaddi’s New Young Player program, Sumit too joined UP Yoddha as an NYP. The only difference was that Sumit was scouted by UP Yoddha during their trials in Ghaziabad and was signed before the auctions.

“Nitesh informed me about the trials,” said Sumit. “He felt I was good enough to play in the team. He gave me the confidence before the trials and thankfully I was selected.”

The UP Yoddha coach Jasvir Singh immediately identified the understanding between the duo and drafted Sumit straight into the side.

“I used to watch the matches on TV till last season, supporting Nitesh. And now I was here playing in the league. I was very nervous before the first game. But when I stepped onto the mat and saw Nitesh playing at the other corner, I felt like I was playing a match in my village,” Sumit said.

Nitesh feels Sumit has improved very quickly, rising to the level necessary to play in the league both in terms of skill and strength.

“Before the pre-season camp, Sumit’s skills were not as polished. He was also slightly weak. But our coaches have worked very well with him and I am surprised at the pace with which he has improved,” said Nitesh who has followed a similar graph in his Pro Kabaddi career.

With UP Yoddha entering their home leg, needing just a win from four games, qualification to the playoffs should be a formality for a team that has begun to peak as the season has progressed.

Their raiders that include big names like Rishank Devadiga and Monu Goyat have joined the party with relative newcomers like Shrikanth Jadhav and Surender Gill leading the raiding unit.

However, since last season, UP Yoddha have always relied on their defensive discipline to win them games and it has not been any different this time around.

Nitesh and Sumit are the only corners from the same team to be in the top ten defenders in terms of average tackle points scored this season and with the childhood friends bringing their backyard tricks to the table, UP Yoddha would feel they have it in them to break their hoodoo in the playoffs and go all the way to the final.