Candid chat with Indian kabbadi captain Ajay Thakur

By A Harsha Vardhan Published on Jul 11, 2018 01:01 PM IST

Chennai: As captain of the Indian Kabaddi Team and more so as captain of the Tamil Thalaivas in the Pro Kabaddi League, Ajay Thakur has captured the hearts of Chennaiites.

They have even given him the 'Thala' sobriquet that was reserved for Dhoni in cricket and Ajith in cinema.

After a gold medal at the recently concluded Kabaddi Masters in Dubai, the Indian team will enter the Asian Games as firm favourites now and, the captain was in Chinmaya Vidyalaya here for the RAIDFORGOLD campaign, an initiative by Mashal Sports to garner more support for the Indian Kabaddi team.

In a chat with News Today, Thakur said, "The Indian team is confident but not overconfident. We have won gold in all seven Asian Games conducted so far and, we will look to repeat the performance."

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q. A few famous experienced players have been dropped. Do you think this is the strongest team going into the Asian Games?

A. Definitely. Indian Kabaddi had a lot of superstars in the past. When I started playing Rakesh Kumar was a big name and I wondered what will happen once he left. Today, I am here and people will wonder what will happen after Ajay Thakur goes. But, the truth is, yesterday I played well and tomorrow I might not and, someone better will come and replace me in the Indian team. This chain will go on. What matters is Team India winning and nothing else.

Q. Have you found ideal young replacements for these superstars?

A. Instead of Surender Nada, I gave a chance to Girish Ernak in Kabaddi Masters. He performed really well and grabbed the chance with both hands. People earn their position in the Indian team based on their performance. Nobody can make their spot permanent here. We need young players who can play with aggression. Experienced players can give you wisdom and opinion. But, it is the youngsters who play. We are confident that this team with a well-balanced mix of youth and experience will do well.

Q. What is the biggest success of Kabaddi in recent years?

A. It is the Pro Kabaddi League. After PKL, Kabaddi's standard shot up not just in India but also abroad. Earlier, even after winning International gold, people still didn't know who Thakur or Manjeet Chillar were. Today, 36 countries play Kabaddi. PKL has brought Kabaddi from the villages and made it popular in the cities. One more important point is that players have also become financially strong. Players are getting good ranking jobs in government like the police department, excise, railway, Air India, etc. So economic stability has further increased the standard of the players.

Q. Where do you see the sport going in the next 2-3 years?

A. My biggest dream is to see kabaddi in the Olympics. There are many sports that India plays, but, Kabaddi is an Indian sport that the world plays. It will take some time, but I am 100 per cent sure that Kabaddi will enter Olympics. Kabaddi is just breaking into the scene. We have to take it step by step.

Q. In the international level, apart from top three teams, there is a huge gap between in performance. What can India do to raise the standard of kabbadi at a world level?

A. The process to raise the standard of kabbadi has already started. In tournaments like the PKL, international players are coming here to watch how we train, our diet and learn strategy. They practice with us, play with us and learn from us. Ahead of the Kabaddi World cup, several of even our coaches have gone out of the country to train international teams. Today, Iran and South Korea have strong teams because of this. India is doing its part to help Kabaddi grow as an international sport.

Q. Tamil Thalaivas finished last in PKL last year. What are the changes you have brought to the team in 2018?

A. Last year was the first season for the Tamil Thalaivas and our average players' age was only 22. Many youngsters had not played on such a big stage. But, I was proud of the fact that these youngsters played well against some of the most experienced players and defeated strong teams like Gujarat. We had a lot of close finishes, but we were unlucky to be on the losing side. For a new team finding the place in the hearts of the people is the biggest goal and we have achieved that. Every match in Chennai had a packed stadium and the fans were cheering for us. That was our biggest victory. This year, we have added some experience to the side and trying a different strategy and hoping to win the title.