2019 finale defeat still hurts: Reigning MVP Naveen Kumar says Dabang Delhi motivated to go all the way in PKL 8
Pro Kabaddi League 2021: Reigning MVP Naveen Kumar, of Dabang Delhi, speaks about the hurtful loss in the last season and dealing with the expectations of him ahead of PKL 8.
He is the reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL). At 19, he became the youngest player to record a 300-raid point campaign. In 2019, he became the second-youngest raider to register a 'Super 10'. That's not it; he holds the record for the most 'Super 10' in a season and most consecutive Super 10s to his name. And now, ahead of PKL 8, the Dabang Delhi youngster has sounded a subtle warning to his opponents as he prepares to cause mayhem again.
Enter Naveen Kumar.
The 21-year-old has been Delhi's lucky charm. When he made his debut in PKL 6, he finished as the side's top-scorer with a total of 177 points and guided them to their maiden playoffs. A season later in 2019, he bettered his performance by a huge margin, racking up 303 points, to help his team power to the final. The previous campaign included a whopping 22 Super 10s and hence, without a shred of a doubt, he was bound to be retained ahead of the mega auctions.
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Unfortunately, Naveen, like every other PKL player was not able to carry his form forward as the wretched coronavirus did not allow the next season of PKL to be held for 2 years. However, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. PKL is back in 2021 and the players are raring to go.
In an exclusive interview with the Hindustan Times, Naveen, when asked about how he dealt with the downtime during the pandemic and how excited he is to get back after the two-year gap, said: "While I spent a lot of time with family and friends, I ensured to continue my fitness, We don’t have too many options in our village but we do have people who love and play kabaddi – I practiced with my fellow kabaddi players, kept at my fitness with basic stamina building exercises"
He added: "Two years was a long gap – there was an itch to hit the mat again. It’s finally happening, and I am looking forward to this. The excitement I have will reflect on the mat from the very first game."
-DEALING WITH EXPECTATIONS-
Naveen caught the eye of every spectator during the last season. Blessed with lightning-quick speed and cat-like reflexes, the Haryana-born raider scored points at will. His special move, the 'running hand touch', made the lives of the defenders extremely difficult. At one point, he became synonymous with 'Super 10s'. Hence, and naturally so, the expectations are going to be very high of him. On dealing with that pressure, Naveen quipped:
"Last season highly motivated me, and it continues to – I want to grow, and I’m blessed to have a coach like [Krishan Kumar] Hooda sir who trusts and builds me as a powerful raider. I am currently practicing and training with senior players like Joginder Narwal, Ajay Thakur, Sandeep Narwal, and Manjeet Chillar – they help me in improvising my game, teach me techniques and skills. Each day is a learning with all of them – they don’t allow me to get nervous or put any pressure on me. I will walk onto the mat with composure and without any pressure will play the game to win it."
-NEW TEAM SETTLING IN WELL-
All the teams will step onto the mat with a new look following the mega auctions. For Delhi, they will miss the services of their second-best raider of PKl 7, Chandran Ranjit, and their star defender, Ravinder 'The Hawk' Pahal. Naveen admitted the team will miss them but also explained how the coach and the players (both new and retained) are doing their best to form a strong team bond.
"All the players who are not part of the team from season 7 will be missed – they were the strength and pillars of the team. Currently, we have a well-balanced squad and look forward to the season – we missed the title last year, this time we are confident to pick the cup
Coach sir plans our schedule in such a way that there’s a mix of training and downtime. It was important for the team to bond and play together without any glitches. Hence, we have informal chat-up sessions, we play games together and we bond beyond kabaddi also. This has brought us together as a team – there’s a lot of respect for each other," elaborated Naveen.
-THE FINALE LOSS STILL HURTS BUT WE ARE CONFIDENT THIS YEAR-
The huge hiatus allowed the players to work on their game closely and develop new skills. After all, in a sport like kabaddi, a player can often fall prey to predictability and they must find new ways to surprise the opponent. And the young Turk in Naveen is no different.
"I have worked on many new skills and techniques from my coach sir and seniors. Opponents will be in for a surprise, and hopefully, I will continue to surprise them through the season," said Naveen, whose bhidega toh badega moment was his mental and physical strength along with the support of his family.
Dabang Delhi lost 34-39 to Bengal Warriors in the final. While the loss still stings, Naveen is confident of winning the title.
"I am confident this season we will again go to the finals, and we will win the trophy. The feeling of reaching till the end and not winning in season 7 still lingers – that feeling continues to motivate us as a team to win the cup this year," he concluded.
Dabang Delhi will kick off their campaign against Puneri Paltan on Thursday, December 23. Due to the Covid-19 related complications, this PKL, which has enthralled the fans around the country with its caravan format, will be conducted at the Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel and Convention Centre in Bengaluru without spectators.