‘In kabaddi we have to keep evolving and stay relevant’: Telugu Titans' Siddharth Desai
- Telugu Titans star raider Siddharth Desai, in a conversation with Hindustan Times said that patience is the key in sport and how crucial it is to evolve to stay relevant.
The role of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) in bringing the sport and the players into the limelight is often not talked about enough. It is no mean feat for a sport like kabaddi to become the second-most-watched sport in 2019, in a country where cricket enjoyed almost 80 percent of the viewership. PKL season 7 scaled new heights and just when it had truly begun to soar, the progress was halted by a raging pandemic.
This is basically a pattern with the players too. For three months, they grab all the attention and eyeballs. But before and after that, they aren’t spoken about enough because the awareness surrounding the zonal, state-level, and national tournaments is lacking. That’s just how difficult it is for hundreds of hard-working men, and their support and coaching staff, to gain recognition as a community in this country.
Telugu Titans star raider Siddharth Desai can vouch for it, who told Hindustan Times in a conversation that patience is the key in sport and how crucial it is to evolve to stay relevant.
“The journey has been long and tough. I have achieved recognition because of my hard work, patience, and lots of practice. In kabaddi we have to keep evolving and being relevant, from skills to techniques to fitness,” Desai said.
Desai has been one of the best success stories of the PKL. He burst onto the scene in season 6, amassing a whopping 221 points in his debut season to finish third on the list. In season 7, he matched his feat, scoring 220 points to finish fourth in the list of most points scored by a player in the season.
However, his journey to the top wasn't devoid of struggles. Most players featuring in the league hail from humble backgrounds and have to put in years of hard work to make a name for themselves. The Maharashtra-born Desai is no different and as it turns out, he had to choose between the army and the sport.
“I was in the army before joining Pro Kabbadi [League]. Ever since PKL began in 2014, I took the decision to resign from the army to play kabaddi. So, I went to a club in Pune after resigning, where I practiced. However, there were two rules to qualify for Pro Kabaddi. One was getting in through NYC and while still being younger than 22 years old. Second, you have to represent a state at the nationals. However, I was a little older so it was extremely necessary for me to play nationals,” revealed Desai.
The 29-year-old then elaborated on a few people who played an instrumental role in helping him take off.
“So, for 2-3 years, I worked very hard and in the 4th year, I played the nationals for Maharashtra. In the same year, Maharashtra won the gold medal. I got to play with big names of the Indian team like Rishank [Devadiga] and Girish [Ernak], and Nitin Madane. I learned a lot of skills from them. When I was associated with Air India on a contract basis, that's when I received the guidance of Ashok Shinde, the coach of Puneri Paltan. At India Air India, I got to play with stalwarts like Rahul Chaudhary, Ajay Thakur, and Deepak Niwas Hooda. It was a great experience for me.
“After playing nationals, I performed well in the commercial tournaments that take place in Mumbai. U Mumba then bought me for 36 lakh rupees. Even though I got an entry into Pro Kabaddi, I still needed to perform. In my debut season, I scored 221 points and won the 'Debutant of the Year' award,” disclosed Desai.
PKL returns after two years. It will be a tall ordeal for the athletes to shed off the rustiness and hit the ground running. They will be coming into the tournament with very little training. But what did the lockdown look for Desai?
He answered: “I was working out at home and carrying out body-weight training with the children of my village. My brother (Suraj) and I were practicing together and moreover, I was following the ‘Kabbadi Fit’ routine that was prescribed to us.”
After a resounding maiden season, Desai had a slow start to his second as he was recovering from surgery on an injury he sustained after the season. However, he bounced back in stellar fashion and bagged 92 points in the last seven games. His efforts went in vain as the Titans failed to make the knockouts and finished a disappointing 11th.
But it’s a new season and the previous results have not deterred Desai’s spirits. He will bank on his mantra ‘Dream, Believe, Achieve’ and keep his mental and physical health in check to do well.
"Mental health is as important as physical health. For mental health, yoga is important. To keep my mental health in check, I carry out "Pranayam" and "Kapal Bharti" every day."
He signed off by saying that he is learning and adding new skills to his armoury and that "everyone will see a new Siddharth in season 8."