WITH A BRAND NEW team and a brand new name, Haryana Steelers, one of the four new franchises of the Pro Kabaddi League, is on route to starting its inaugural campaign.
The JSW Sports-owned team possess a bunch of veterans in its 21-men cadre. Apart from the senior players like Mohit Chillar, Surender Nada, Surjeet Singh and Wazir Singh, the Steelers have found an experienced coach in Ranbir Singh Khokhar.
The former national kabaddi player, who has 35 years of coaching under his belt, has led India to gold medals at the 11th Asian Games at Beijing, in 1990 and at the fourth Asian Indoor Games at Incheon, in 2013. With nearly five weeks to the kick-off of the much-awaited tournament, Khokhar’s squad has hit the mat and started with its training.
Khokkar, who is known for his immense contribution to the field of Kabaddi, had an exclusive interview for The Fan Garage, as he discussed his plans, views and aim going ahead into the season five.
TFG: This is your second reign in the PKL. How different are things from guiding the Patna Pirates in season one and coaching the Steelers?
RSK: Everything is different. Our team has a right mixture of experienced and promising players. The competition is going to very challenging with 12 teams and our sole aim will be to qualify for the play-offs. How we perform in the initial stage will help determine our strategy for the rest of the event.
TFG: JSW is an eminent power in the sporting field. Their efforts and their progress is noticable across various sports. How does it feel to be associated with such a reputed name?
RSK: I have worked as a coach of Sports Authority of India in Patiala, Sonipat, Bangalore etc but I have never come across the facilities that I am seeing here at JSW’s sports academy in Bangalore. Bhopal, which is popular for its kabaddi, also do not have such amenities. The amenities at JSW Sports are just world-class and the best in India. The medical and the fitness centres are of international standards. It feels good that JSW Sports is focusing at the development of young boys and girls who want to make career in boxing, judo, kabaddi, football etc.
TFG: While PKL 1 players auction saw Rakesh Kumar emerge as top earner with Rs 12.8 lakh, PKL 5 players auction saw Nitin Tomar join Team UP for Rs 93 lakh. Apart from helping the players, how do these figures help the sport?
RSK: Increase in income is always a boost for the sport. I can see more aspirants taking up kabaddi as a profession. I meet 10-year-olds who are determined to pursue their career in kabaddi. If players can earn enough from the sport, they won’t have to look to do service in other fields.
TFG: PKL 5 will see a total of 130 matches across 13 weeks. This also means that the players will face fatigue and will prone to injuries. How do you plan on tackling this issue?
RSK: It is not only the time period but also the surface on which PKL is played that produces risk of injuries. In comparison to mud, the surface-mat plays as a catalyst to the speed and intensity of the game. This makes players vulnerable to injuries. However, we have good depth in our squad to overcome any unfortunate injuries. With multiple players in every position, we have a strong bench strength. Also, in the coming month, we are going to focus more on our staying fit and avoiding fatigue.
TFG: How does it feel to have a mix of fresh players and experienced players like Surender Nada, Surjeet Singh and Mohit Chillar in the squad?
RSK: With plyers like Surender Nada, Mohit Chillar, Wazir Singh, Surjeet Singh in the squad, I feel we have experts in offense as well as defence. We also have young promising players in the squad.
TFG: Haryana has always produced world-class athletes in contact-sports of the likes boxing, wrestling, judo and kabaddi. Do you feel any kind of pressure representing the knowledgable crowd from the state?
RSK: There is always some kind of pressure while representing a unit which is successful in sports. But we cannot let it get the better of ourselves. So we are taking it in our stride and working towards doing well in our inaugural season.
TFG: Over the years, the media and the fans have played a huge role in the popularity of cricket. What do you think about it in terms of kabaddi?
RSK: I feel that the reach and popularity of kabaddi is growing at a faster rate than cricket. I am awestruck when I see fans waiting for the team to enter training complex for our routine practice. PKL has played an instrumental role in marketing the sport and the addition of four new teams is certainly going to be a big plus. Credit needs to be given to the media as well. They have covered the sport and have made it available in every region of the country.
DISCLAIMER: The interview was originally conducted in Hindi.