Starting his PKL career with Patna Pirates, former international star Rakesh Kumar went on to play for U Mumba and Telugu Titans before turning an expert in the sixth season. Come 2019, Rakesh is back on the kabaddi mat but this time not as a player but as the coach of Haryana Steelers.
Rakesh Kumar was one of the biggest names on the kabaddi circuit when the PKL started back in 2014 and was the highest-paid player at the auctions as well. The former India all-rounder was picked up by Patna franchise for 12.8 lakh rupees at the first-ever auction for kabaddi players. However, five years later, he is still connected to the league but with a new role. Rakesh replaced his first PKL coach Rambir Singh Khokhar as the chief coach of Haryana Steelers and has been instrumental in the team’s success as well.
“It was a bit difficult while going into coaching at the beginning. There was a different feeling coming in as a coach right after leaving the sport as a player. Now, I am feeling good and am happy with the team. The team I tried to make and the way I made the players work those are getting paid off so I am happy,” Rakesh told SportsCafe in an exclusive interview.
Rakesh’s transition from a player to a coach was not a direct one as after representing Patna Pirates, U Mumba and Telugu Titans in PKL, in the sixth season of the league; he was with the official broadcasters’ Hindi commentary team as an expert. Rakesh has revealed that his stint as an expert was of great help after he joined the Steelers as a coach. Watching and analysing almost all the players in the previous season is something that Rakesh believes became crucial after taking up the responsibility of a coach.
“The experience as an expert with the broadcasters in the last season helped me a lot in this season after I joined as a coach. I watched almost all the matches and all the players. I knew their good qualities and their weaknesses which I used while our team’s practice. I worked on the strength and weakness of various players with the team along with the video footages,” the 37-year-old mentioned.
Being an employee of the Indian Railways, Rakesh and Haryana skipper Dharmaraj Cheralathan played together for around 15 years. Cheralathan is the oldest player in the league and was Rakesh’s senior as well in the departmental tournaments. The coach said that they both share a very good bond and have mutual respect for each other. The duo’s only aim is contributing together for the team’s success.
“Our skipper is a very senior player and we used to play together in our department team for the Railways. We always shared a good understanding and good bonding. Whenever he used to give me an advise I used to listen to him.
“So now, he is the captain and I am the coach that doesn’t mean that I will only tell him and advise him. He has a lot of experience and a lot more than me. So, we work together for the team and at times I say something to him and also ask him for advice. We discuss together and this is a great thing that we played together for so many years and now also, we are working together for the team,” the Haryana coach further added.
When the senior defender was out for two games due to a small injury and Haryana lost to Bengal because of some defensive lapses, Rakesh had spoken about the absence of Cheralathan on the mat. Meanwhile, the coach has revealed that the skipper himself wanted to play the next game against Patna but it was Rakesh who asked him to take rest and come fully fit for the home matches in Panchkula.
“Cheralathan was eager to play against the Pirates but I asked him to take a bit of more rest before the start of the home leg,” said Rakesh.
As the Haryana leg is in progress in the PKL, Rakesh expressed, “Home leg is very important for all the teams and they try hard to perform better at home. This is the right time to play at home. We are getting very good support from the fans. The team is doing well and they will be doing better with the home fans behind them.”
Rakesh also talked about the bench strength of the Steelers. With Vikash Kandola doing well, the team from one of the hotbeds of kabaddi also have Prashanth Rai and Vinay as the two regular raiders now. Players like Naveen and K Selvamani are sitting out at the moment which is a good headache to have for the team management.
“It is a great thing to have bench strength as a coach. Once Vikash and Prashanth came back the team gained a lot of confidence and started doing well after some initial struggle. It is a great thing to have some good players in the bench not only in the raiding unit but also in the defence,” the Haryana coach stated.
“Vinay is a very good young talent. I picked him from junior competitions and he is hardworking. He has practised a lot and I can say that in the future he will be someone like Pardeep, Rahul or Ajay. He will be a big name and I said that seeing his movement. He is a sincere player and I hope him to do well in the next one or two years.”
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