It is not very often that you find a player, in any sport, who has professional experience of over 25 years and is still actively playing at the top level. If it is a physically demanding sport like kabaddi, then the achievement is even more praiseworthy.
At 46, defender Dharmaraj Cheralathan is showing no signs of slowing down and is still one of the best defenders the game has ever seen. His getting sold for INR 20L to Jaipur Pink Panthers, at the recent Pro Kabaddi League auctions just indicates that he is still as sought after, as he was in the first season.
Jaipur, this year, is going to be his seventh team in the league, and hopefully, the Tamil Nadu player will have a longer stint with them. But 'Anna', as he is fondly known in the kabaddi circle, is not too bothered with this constant change of teams in the PKL. He anyways has been the wall for all his teams and wishes to don the same role for Jaipur; he also takes it upon himself to use all his experience and gel with the team to get the results.
"I think playing in a new team doesn't or should not bother a player that much. Each team, irrespective of the fact whether they have new players or old ones, gets in a lot of training sessions together before stepping on the mat, so it is not really an issue. And in my case, where I'm an experienced player, it is my responsibility to adjust my game according to the needs of the team and the newer players. In fact, I take it upon myself to take the team not only to the playoffs but final as well," Cheralathan told SportsCafe in an exclusive interaction.
In the previous season, Jaipur had failed miserably, and only a handful of youngsters were retained by the team, and while a few more were bought at the auctions, none are much known to the fans. That stated, a lot of thought has gone behind the selection of raiders like Arjun Deshwal and Naveen into the team, and Anna believes, these youngsters make the team formidable.
"If you look at our team, there are a few youngsters to go with the seasoned players. So it is going to be a good mix, and that makes us a team to look out for. Having said that, it is our responsibility that the new players bring out their best for the team. With that hope, I think Jaipur is going to play outstanding kabaddi," he added.
That squad that Jaipur has is full of capable defenders, and Anna's presence will only give rise to a selection headache to the management and the captain. But that is not how the veteran defender sees it. It is all about getting the right combination on the mat, even if it means that he has to 'left in'.
"For now, my playing position totally depends on what the management expects out of me. We have two very strong covers as well, so if the need arises, I could be playing 'in' as well. But again, the picture will only become clearer when the tournament comes close or on the day of the match. Since it is a long season as well, players will have to be rotated well, so that no injuries occur during the season. All in all, I see Jaipur as a complete unit; we just need to be careful with the attacks, that's it," he concluded.