Anup Kumar is one of India’s finest kabaddi players. He is the vice-captain of the national team and he captains the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) franchisee U Mumba. He has also been conferred with the Arjuna Award for his contribution to the sport of Kabaddi. He was a key member of the all-conquering, gold-winning Indian kabaddi team at the Asian Games in 2010 and 2014.
With the PKL being a resounding success in the first season, the kabaddi players finally got the recognition they deserved and became household names, no one more than Anup Kumar. The raider rose to the occasion and won the most number of points in the tournament, winning the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the first season.
He talked to us in an exclusive interview which you can read below:
Have you always wanted to play kabaddi? How did your family react when you broke the news to them?
Not since childhood, but I started playing in school. We used to play just to pass time during our free time. Our sports teacher would make us play sometimes, so we played then and then we started playing back home. My father and brother used to ask me to stop playing and wanted me to concentrate on studies. But, I was not interested in studies and slowly I got into kabaddi around the age of 17.
How do they feel now that you have become such a big player and an icon for kabaddi?
My father is no more, but my brother is very happy that I have made them proud. I am very happy that kids all over the country know my name. Before, they used to hit me and ask me not to play, but now they are very proud and happy.
Kabaddi is a very demanding sport physically, how do you train your body to cope with it?
The first time I took kabaddi seriously was when I was selected for my first tournament with the national team in 2006. Back then, I used to practice thrice a day – morning, afternoon and evening. Later, we had our practice sessions twice a day – two and a half hours each in the morning and evening.
Regarding my diet, I only eat homemade food. I eat curd, milk and butter a lot and also almonds, which are very good for the body. It helps in recovery of the body and gives a lot of power. I'll tell you, I have never taken any supplement.
What impact has the PKL made to the sport of kabaddi?
PKL has completely changed kabaddi. Before, very few people knew kabaddi; Only the families which played kabaddi knew the sport. However, after the first season (of the PKL), everyone knows what is kabaddi and how it is played. There was a brilliant response from the masses for the first season of the PKL. They are very eager for season 2 to start. I get a lot of calls asking when the second season is starting.
Anup Kumar (orange) executing his famous toe-touch move
Your move – the Toe Touch – is very famous. Could you tell us something about it?
Every player has a special move and mine is the toe touch. I have focused a lot on the toe touch and practiced the move extensively. In Pro Kabaddi, it is very helpful, but now everyone knows that if Anup Kumar comes to raid, he will try the toe touch.
As you mentioned that opponents know about your toe touch, will you try something different in season 2?
(Laughs) Nothing like that. I can do what my thing is. If I try the back-kick, it may backfire. I will try to improve my toe touch even further, but if that will happen, only time can tell.
What effect has the presence of Bollywood stars made on the PKL?
It is very good for our sport and us (the players). Celebrities attract a lot of people, who come to see them and they see our game too. The stars coming to matches results is profitable to us. They attract sponsors and people respond to the glamour attached to kabaddi.
Do you think the PKL will popularize the sport of kabaddi and make the players household names?
Will it happen? It has already happened. It has only been 1 season and if kabaddi continues this way, the possibilities are endless. You can't even imagine how far kabaddi can go with the PKL.
Anup Kumar won the MVP award for season 1
You were the MVP and the top raider in the first season. How does it feel to be named the best player?
I am very happy by this. With it being the first season, my name will be written in history. Who was the MVP in the first season – Anup Kumar; Most number of points – Anup Kumar. It is very good for me that my name will be written in the history books. All the kids growing up will know that there was a player called Anup Kumar who played in the league. It is a very happy moment for me.
In the first season, Ravi Shetty was the team coach and now Bhaskaran Edachery has taken over the reins. Could you tell us the difference in approach between the two?
I didn't spend a lot of time with Shetty sir. But, as Bhaskaran sir is the national team coach, I have been with him for a long time – 5 years. Both are good coaches, I believe among all the coaches in the league, there is no better coach than our team's coach, nobody.
You are the captain of U Mumba and vice-captain of the Indian national team. Which team do you like more?
To be honest, U-Mumba is a very good team, but in the national team, only the top players from all over the country are involved. So, you can understand how good the team would be. Due to the national team having the top 12 players from the country, I like the national team more.
India has won all the international tournaments in Kabaddi. Do you think any other country can give India a good competition?
There is no question of other countries beating us. The Indian team and players are very good. Iran and South Korea are coming up, Pakistan was a good team before. But, their standards are not up to Iran’s and South Korea’s. We have a good competition with Iran, who have a very good team. It isn't that they can beat us, but Iran should NEVER consider India as a weak team.
You have achieved so much. Is there a particular moment that you will never forget?
One match that will stay in my memory is the Asian Games final vs Iran in Incheon, Korea. The match was very tough and in the last moment, we had a 2-point lead, Iran had 2 players and I had gone to raid. I got tackled and then I got very nervous and thought I lost the gold for India. I felt very bad. Then we had only a 1-point lead, but held on for the win. I will never forget that moment.
Apart from kabaddi, what do you like to do?
I like to go out, roam around with friends, enjoy with them.
What advice would you give to budding kabaddi players?
To be a good player, firstly you should have good manners, your behaviour should be exemplary – you should be disciplined to be a good player. Work hard, respect the coach and practice well. Work as much as you can. Do a lot of extra work.
Originally published on Sportskeeda.com here