The Australians are loathe to being called underdogs, be it any sport. But calling the Australian kabaddi team that would not be an understatement given the 54-20 result against India in their Kabaddi World Cup opener on Saturday.
The result was never in doubt, considering the Indians have won the past two World Cups with ease. The Australians, on the other hand, did not even have a team until a couple of months ago.
Not surprisingly then, when the Australian Kabaddi Federation decided to put together a team for the World Cup a few months ago, it banked on a simple plan to make up for their inexperience: hire Australian Rules Football (ARF) players who have recently retired from the Australian Football League (AFL).
The current Australian team in India has three former AFL players -- captain Campbell Brown, Adam Schneider and Stephen Milne -- apart from four others who play Australian Rules Football to keep fit.
Brown used to be a defender who played for teams like Hawthorn and Gold Coast Suns before his career ended abruptly in 2013 for breaking his teammate’s jaw in pre-season.
Milne was one of the best goal-kickers a few years ago, who played for St Kilda before retiring from AFL in 2013. Schneider, who played for Sydney Swans and St Kilda, quit last year.
“There are many attributes we learn in Australian Football that come handy in kabaddi. Things like speed and agility is key to both sports. The tackling skills we learnt as players will also help here. ARF is a 360 degree game, just like kabaddi. You need peripheral vision to evade tackles when raiding,” Brown told HT on Friday.
“We’re very fit. On an average, you run between 12 and 16 kilometres in an AFL game. That’s why our pre-season training lasts up to six months. We do a lot of running, swimming, boxing, cross training and gym work apart from pilates and yoga.”
The AFL, slightly similar to rugby and American football, is one of the most popular sporting events Down Under, with as many as 95,000 people attending matches held on grounds like the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In terms of popularity, it is second to none in Australia.
Brown hopes his and his team’s exploits in India will inspire more people back home to take an interest in the sport.
“We realise we have a lot to learn, but there will be another World Cup in two years’ time. We would like to improve. It’s going to be televised in Australia and we’re hoping after this tournament a lot of people will be asking about kabaddi and will want to play. We’re going to give it our best shot and compete as hard as we can.”
For now, Brown and his teammates are eyeing a few upsets in the World Cup, starting with India, who lost their opener to South Korea 32-34 on Friday.
“Yes, we haven’t been training together very long but anything’s possible. We realise they’re the best in the sport, but upsets happen in sport. You never know what’s going to happen.”