Tcha! I lost my breath there. I guess you too would have, unless otherwise you happen to be Ajay Thakur. But if you are Ajay Thakur, you can probably read this entire column in a single breath. Ajay Thakur is capable of this because he has no lungs.
Okay, that is an obvious lie. Ajay Thakur is capable of this because he is the star raider for the Chennai franchise kabaddi team, Tamil Thalaivas, and when you watch him in action, you may, well, also forget to breathe.
He has been in great form, and it was such a treat to watch this quicksilver player in action at the ongoing Pro-Kabaddi Season-5 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai, which many sports lovers will remember to be the venue for many memorable film-related functions.
With Ajay Thakur leading from the front, you will guess Tamil Thalaivas to be leading the league, and your guess would fetch you ‘minus 5’ points as that question had negative marking for wrong answers.
Tamil Thalaivas are actually bottom-placed, but despite the local team not doing well, it was great fun to be at the stadium this week as enthusiastic fans kept the spirit up in the stands, especially when one zealous chap held a placard that read in bold-letters: “Welcome back CSK”.
Since the placard-holder, a youngster in his mid-teens, was not very far off from where I was sitting, I went up to him and asked why was he showing his support to CSK in a kabaddi match, and his response was, “I am just accompanying my elder brother here. I like kabaddi. But I like cricket more. I am looking forward to watching CSK next year”. We know ‘Knowledgeable Chennai Cricket Fans’ come in various forms. Just that this one came wrapped as a kabaddi fan.
Talking of cricket, kabaddi has a problem that cricket also faces. It is a problem that NBA teams also faced: The names for franchise teams. They are all uniformly silly and hideous. In the Pro-Kabaddi league there is a team named Patna Pirates. Why would any one want that name? Sounds less a kabaddi team, more a collective reference to Lalu’s family.
Then there is U Mumba. This name was probably accepted because every other bad name was already taken. The Gujarat franchise is called Gujarat Fortune Giants, which, of course, sounds a whole lot agreeable when you compare it with Rising Pune Supergiant (nee: Rising Pune Supergiants). But for us in this city to take potshots at other teams’ names is a bit rich, especially since our football team is called: Chennaiyin FC. (Fun fact: Chennaiyin FC won the title in 2015 by the cunning stratagem of distracting the opponents with its name).
But the Pro-Kabaddi league stands out for one thing that is increasingly rare on most other sporting fields: Players’ honesty. Most of the kabaddi players when they know that they have been touched, they voluntarily put their hand up to signal that they are indeed ‘out’. This was a surprise for me, for I have been majorly exposed to cricket where players like Shane Watson don’t mind referring the decision to the third umpire even when they are actually clean bowled.
The Pro-Kabaddi league has given the sport an exciting edge. The matches are snappy, the raids are fun, and they have tweaked a few rules, brought in new ones, like the ‘do-or-die raid’, ‘super raid’, and going forward we hope they will also include the most revolutionary rule ever seen with regard to kabaddi, which we saw in the film Ghillie: the team that had lost in the semis makes it to the finals. (Of course, in the universe of Tamil films, kabaddi is the most forward-looking of sports, achieving what most sports have failed so far in real life: pitting man against woman in the same contest).
Talking of films, the brand ambassador of Tamil Thaliavas did not turn up for even one match. Just as well. Because Kamal Haasan is the brand ambassador. Frankly, we can all agree TN had reached critical mass in Kamal events long back this season.
One more occasion of him holding forth with a mike in his hand, even Ajay Thakur would have quickly let out his breath with an audible sigh.