Kabaddi in India has not been the same since the advent of the franchise-based Pro Kabaddi League in 2014. The league took the sport to hitherto unexplored territories and there is now an unprecedented buzz to every international kabaddi tournament. It will be no different when India take on five other nations " Iran, Pakistan, Kenya, Argentina and Korea " in the Kabaddi Masters in Dubai from 22-30 June.
Talking to Firstpost, Srinivas Reddy, the newly-appointed national coach said that despite India being the overwhelming favourites, none of the other teams were being taken lightly and the three-month training camp in Sonepat was used to make India a stronger side.
"The training camp was divided into stages which were modelled to improve the player's fitness and develop their technique. The training modules were designed to ensure every facet of the players was monitored and developed properly."
With the six-nation tournament coming just a few weeks before the Asian Games in Indonesia, the player-turned-coach termed the Kabaddi Masters as a semi-final of sorts before the marquee event where India are the defending champions and have always won gold in every edition of the tournament so far since the sport was first inducted in the main roster in 1990.
"Asian Games will once again have Iran, Pakistan, and Korea among other teams and this tournament will be like a semi-final. It will be a good opportunity for preparation," said Reddy.
In a team sport, the presence of individual superstars always has an impact on the dynamics of the team. The Indian team has top-quality raiders like captain Ajay Thakur, Rahul Chaudhari, Pardeep Narwal, Rohit Kumar, Rishank Devadiga and Monu Goyat in their ranks and it can be a selection headache for the team management.
While the coach agreed that the presence of individual superstars does affect the team selection, he found it to be a pleasant dilemma.
"The coach's job is not only to impart tactical training and fitness plans but also to ensure the players are mentally in the right space. The players give their best when they know that there is someone else ready and talented enough to replace them if their performance falters. It helps in the success of the team and reminds everyone that on the mat, no individual is bigger than the team."
The Indian squad not only boasts of superstar raiders but also top-class all-rounders and defenders like Deepak Hooda, Manjeet Chhillar, Surender Nada, and Girish Ernak who will add on to the selection conundrum.
Reddy said that the team composition will be a dynamic one and it will hinge on specific strategies that will be adopted against a particular opponent.
One of those opponents in the Kabaddi Masters will be Pakistan and as always, a clash against the neighbouring nation comes with added pressure and expectations.
However, he said, "The training imparted is also to ensure that players don't take such external pressures in their minds while they step on the mat. While playing against Pakistan, we only see the strategy planned and how to execute it. They are just another opponent."
With a squad that has a good mix of both experience and youth, the wheels of the gradual change of guard seem to be set in motion.
While the selection from the present set of players is a tough task in itself, the exclusion of Anup Kumar, former Indian captain and one of the biggest names in Kabaddi, wouldn't have been easy.
Talking about the decision, the 40-year-old from Telangana said, "In cricket, Sachin Tendulkar's retirement from the team did not bring the sport in India to a standstill. You had someone like Virat Kohli taking over the responsibility. The sport is always more important than the players."