After a dismal show by the Tamil Thalaivas in the sixth season of the PKL, the smiles on the faces of the Ajay Thakur fans were back within a month at the end of PKL as Thakur was conferred with the Padma Shri Award. The star raider now has a sole aim of making the Thalaivas champion this year.
With some big names in the side in the sixth season of the Pro Kabaddi League, the Ajay Thakur-led Tamil Thalaivas couldn’t perform as per expectations in the tournament. However, after failing to take the team into the playoffs despite some dominating performances as a raider, Thakur became the second kabaddi player and first-ever male in the history of the sport to be bestowed with the prestigious Padmashree Award, the fourth highest civilian honour in India. Before Thakur, Sunil Dabas was awarded the same in 2014 for her service to the sport.
Speaking exclusively to SportsCafe over the phone, Thakur said, “Whenever the Indian government presents the Padma awards, it makes us really proud. I was really delighted. The biggest thing is that the first time a male kabaddi player was awarded and that was me. Youngsters get motivated with these type of awards.”
Meanwhile, with less than two months to go for the Pro Kabaddi League, the star raider has started getting ready for the tournament with an aim of lifting the coveted trophy. As Thakur was the only player who shouldered the responsibility of the raiding department with others like Jasveer Singh, Athul MS and Sukesh hedge all struggling, the Chennai-based side decided to bring in Rahul Chaudhari for Rs. 94 lakh for the seventh season. Thakur had gathered 203 points for the Thalaivas last season but even then could only finish at the bottom of the Zone B points table with only 42 points from 22 games.
“This year we have a good team as well. We want to win the league this time. The one thing that I have in mind is to win the PKL title once with the team,” the Tamil Thalaivas skipper explained.
“There was a load on my shoulders previously but with Rahul now in the team, the pressure has gone off. There is no pressure on me regarding the raids. With two good raiders in the team and with both of them playing well, it will be great for us this season. We will complement each other and with that we can give the best for the team.”
Inclusion of Chaudhari brings more experience to the team which decided to retain Manjeet Chhillar along with Thakur and also bought Mohit Chhillar and Ran Singh from the auctions. The vast experience of these players in the league might just come in handy if they can put together a dominating show in the seventh season. However, Thakur stressed upon the importance practice camps ahead of the league and players’ fitness which will play an important role for the team this year.
“I think that the practice of a player is important as it plays a vital role on the mat for a player. If you don’t have proper practice it will not work for you. Experience is not everything, you need to work hard on the mat. Experience is needed out of the court to strategise how the players play,” said the 33-year-old raider.
The Tamil Nadu-based franchise is scheduled to start their training for the next edition from June under the guidance of their coach E Baskaran, who has been at the helm of the team for more than a year now.
“He (Baskaran) had a lot of impact on our team. His contributions are really a lot for Tamil Thalaivas. He is a very senior coach and was associated with the Indian team as well. He used to rectify us whenever we commit mistakes on the mat,” said the Tamil Thalaivas skipper.
When asked about any specific plans for himself ahead of the seventh season, Thakur replied, “I always want to better my performance from the last time. If raiding is my duty then I keep my focus to contribute more with the raids.
“As a captain, I always want the players not to have any relation with the individual performances. If I am scoring 10 points and the team is losing then that doesn’t have a meaning and I don’t have a value as a captain. Winning a match and getting the winning points as a team is important. Kaun poochhta hai ki Ajay ne kitna score kiya yaa Rahul Chaudhari ne kitna score kiya? Sab yahi poochhte hain ki season ka champion kaun hua? Yeh cheezein badi matter karti hai humlongon ke liye (Who asks how many points Ajay Thakur or Rahul Chaudhari has scored? They only ask who became the champion? These things matter a lot for us).”
Playing for the Bengaluru Bulls in the initial years and now for Tamil Thalaivas, Thakur is a household name in India. He single-handedly took the Indian kabaddi team to victory with a sensational show in the final of the 2016 World Cup in Ahmedabad and is now the captain of the Indian team as well. Thakur said with the inception of the league, the indigenous sport has been completely transformed now.
“Kabaddi is not a small sport now. A lot of people are taking up the sport. This makes us really happy and proud. Kabaddi is getting name and fame and people are liking it. Previously, although we were playing at the international level, people thought that it is not a great sport. Former players and people related to the sport only knew about us. Now you go to any nook and corner of India, people know who you are and which sport you play,” Thakur concluded.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi