Since the inception of the PKL, Anup Kumar was at the centre of all attractions among all other players. Meanwhile, after announcing his retirement from competitive kabaddi, the legendary raider is now looking forward to share his knowledge and experience with the youngsters through coaching.
“Captain Cool” and “Bonus Ka Badshah”, these were the nicknames given to India’s former skipper and raiding superstar Anup Kumar. When the Pro Kabaddi League started back in the year 2014, Anup Kumar took the charge of U Mumba as their skipper and managed to qualify for the finals. However, things didn’t go U-Mumba's way in the summit clash and they ended second best after losing to Jaipur Pink Panthers. Anup was the Best Raider of the tournament in the inaugural year with a total of 155 raid points.
U Mumba, however, went one step further the very next year when they got the better of Bengaluru Bulls in the final and Anup Kumar had led the team from the front with 74 raid points from 14 games in the season. He was one of the stars of the league and the greatest ambassador of the indigenous sport.
Come 2018, there was a change in jersey colour for Anup. After playing five consecutive seasons for the Mumbai team, he was roped in by Jaipur Pink Panthers in the previous edition and was seen in their traditional pink colour. However, with advancing age, he was not as effective as he used to be on the mat before but continued to instruct the team and lead the way for the Rajasthan-based franchise before finally calling it a day just before the end of the league stage on December 19.
For someone, who has always associated himself with the sport, it was difficult to imagine a life away from the mat and Anup was soon to declare the start of a new innings in kabaddi. Just before the PKL auctions in April this year, he joined Puneri Paltan as their chief coach. After 12 years of playing career Anup will be seen at the sidelines during a PKL match instructing youngsters what to do.
“There is a time for the players to retire. While I was playing it was different and now joining as a coach is a different thing for me. I wanted to stay connected with kabaddi so I decided to take up coaching so that I can share my knowledge and the experience that I gained while playing kabaddi," Anup said during an exclusive interview with SportsCafe. “Until now I have enjoyed being a coach. Let’s see how it goes in the future.”
The 35-year-old former World Cup-winning skipper is the third coach in three years for the Paltan who had BC Ramesh in 2017 and Ashan Kumar Sangwan in 2018 at the helm. The team which couldn’t perform as per expectations had gone into the auctions without keeping any player in Elite Player Retention as well and expect Anup to bring in a huge change in the team’s fortunes this time around. Anup’s calmness might help the side from Maharashtra when they will take to the mat in the 2019 edition of the league which is scheduled to begin in July.
When asked about the reason for choosing Puneri Paltan, Anup said, “I am playing from the first season in the PKL and have always heard positive things about Puneri Paltan. I have never heard a single or a single thing against team management.”
“I always wanted to join a team which thinks about the players. These things are done by the franchise and the team management here. So I wanted to come here as a coach.”
Puneri Paltan have some very talented raiders this year apart from their star from last season – Nitin Tomar. Manjeet, Darshan Kadian and Pawan Kadian are mostly going to be the supportive raiders but the youth power in the raiding unit will get massive benefit with Anup as their guide. Anup’s presence in the dressing room will draw the best out of all of them and his calmness might prove instrumental in the success of the young raiding unit of the Paltan this time around.
Speaking about the impact Anup will have on the team Tomar said, “He has been a great player and I have played under his captaincy before as well in the 2016 World Cup. He makes a good plan and was a great raider in his playing days. I am looking forward to playing under his guidance and learn whatever I can from him this time.”
Not only Tomar or the team management, Anup himself believes that retired players who were a part of the league in the past can be a great help for the players as compared to the others. This year, Anup’s teammate and another former PKL player Rakesh Kumar has also taken over the responsibility as a coach of Haryana Steelers. Gujarat Fortunegiants’ coach Manpreet Singh was also a part of Patna Pirates’ squad when they won the title in 2016. Anup is of the opinion that the players those who have played in the league previously can understand the game better because of the tweak in rules.
“According to me, this should be beneficial for the players. The older coaches don’t have a lot of knowledge about the new rules and regulations as compared to the younger generation. I want the players those who are taking retirement or stopping to play should take up coaching,” explained the 35-year-old player-turned-coach.
“For example me and Rakesh, we have played the league and saw the league as well so, we know what is the system, how is the experience, how will we practice and make others practice, how to motivate the players, we have observed all these things. We are seeing the league for the last 4-5 years. Young coaches can treat players in a very good manner.”
India had won a gold at the South Asian Games in 2016 in which Anup had made his debut. Since then, he never looked back in his playing career as he went on to win the Asian Games in 2010 and 2014. Anup also led the Indian team to the World Cup title in 2016 in Ahmedabad and was conferred with Arjuna Award for his contribution to the sport in 2012. Meanwhile, once a “Captain Cool” now wants to earn a name for himself as a coach with the Puneri Paltan.
“This is a new role. If I don’t do something very good this season than what is the benefit. As a player, I have my achievements. Now, I want to do well in coaching and earn a name for myself as a coach. I want to do something very good and try to bring out new players with my experience and that is a challenge for me. I want to make the Puneri Paltan players perform well and as a coach, I want to lift the title.”
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