In the remote town of Bhainswal in the Sonipat district of Haryana, sports take precedence over studies. Match scorecards matter more than report cards and the ultimate life choice is between a wrestling akhaada and a kabaddi court
For Sunil Kumar and Parvesh Bhainswal, cousins by relation and separated by just one brick wall, that choice came easy. Watching elder brothers excel in kabaddi, the duo simply followed suit.
"It all started in school after watching our elder brothers play kabaddi. At that time, we just used to play for fun, but as things progressed and we participated in U-14 nationals and school nationals, and we began to realise that there was potential for us in kabaddi. Since then we haven't looked back and here we are on the Pro Kabaddi League stage," Parvesh told Firstpost.
Born just a month apart in 1997, Parvesh and Sunil's alliance began right from the cradle, continued in the house backyard and blossomed on the kabaddi mat. They knew each other so well that their coach in the village, Bhupender Malik, slotted them straight into cover positions. It's a specialised position in kabaddi and players playing at the covers need to have a great understanding between each other. For Sunil and Parvesh, who had lived almost every minute of their life together, it was never an issue.
"In kabaddi, we started off as covers because our coach saw that we had a great understanding. So since the age of 12 we have been playing together in that position. That's one of the reasons why our combination now is so good," Sunil revealed.
Parvesh Bhainswal (L) and Sunil Kumar have been among the star players for the Gujarat Fortune Giants this season in the Pro Kabaddi. Image Courtesy: PKL
Sunil and Parvesh's kabaddi careers took off when they caught the eye of Sports Authority of India coach, Jaivir Sharma, while playing together at the University Nationals. They guided their team to the gold, convincing Sharma of their abilities. The duo was directly drafted in at SAI, Gandhinagar where they have been training for the past three years.
Sunil and Parvesh were to make more waves as they helped their University team win the national title for two more years on the trot. Their combination at the covers was also at heart of the SAI team's triumph at the junior kabaddi nationals for two straight years between 2015 and 2017. Their reputation was growing at the junior and lower levels. But recognition at the top level was still missing.
Parvesh made India's junior national squad for the Asian Kabaddi Championship, but Sunil was left out. National team appearance helped Parvesh grab the attention of Jaipur Pink Panthers who snapped him up for Season 4 of Pro Kabaddi. Sunil, meanwhile, had to take the tougher route through a trial to be picked up by the Patna Pirates.
Playing as individuals, Sunil and Parvesh couldn't make a mark in the limited opportunities that were offered to them, but back home in Haryana, success in local tournaments did no harm to their growing stature as fine combination tacklers.
The duo was selected to represent Haryana in the prestigious tournament that has a prize money of Rs 1 crore. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Anup Kumar and Surender Nada in their state side, Sunil and Parvesh helped Haryana reach the final. En-route they beat an ONGC side in the semi-final that was coached by Manpreet Singh, who was later slated to take over at the new franchise Gujarat Fortunegiants. Manpreet had heard about the pair for a while, but watching them in flesh made him make up his mind ahead of the Pro Kabaddi auctions.
"Sunil and Parvesh's coach Bhupender is a close friend of mine. He had been telling me about these two since they were kids. Even Jaivir sir had good things to say about them. So I had been following the progress of these for a while. But when I saw them play in the tournament in Haryana, I immediately realised the qualities they have and informed the Gujarat management that we needed to purchase these two players in the auctions," Manpreet told Firstpost.
The Sunil-Parvesh combination was a big hit for the Fortune Giants in the Pro Kabaddi League who reached the final in their maiden campaign. The duo scored 108 tackle points between them and both of them were among the top five cover defenders in the league.
Their efforts were overshadowed by the heroics of Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mohajermighani who starred in the corner positions for Gujarat, but coach Manpreet was well aware of his prized assets at the cover positions.
"It's very hard for players to develop an understanding in a short period of time. Parvesh and Sunil have a superb understanding since they have been playing together since their childhood. Such a combination is very rare in kabaddi and it was important that we held on to them after last season," Manpreet said.
Gujarat retained Sunil and got back Parvesh through the Final Bid Match Card in the auctions before Season Six. With Fazel and Abozar replaced by two talented, but inexperienced, corners in Ruturaj Koravi and Sachin Vittala, the onus of carrying their defence fell on the shoulders of Sunil and Parvesh. The former was handed the additional responsibility of captaincy, but nothing of it fazed the cousins from Bhainswal.
"Jab Parvesh mere saath hota hai toh mujhe kisi cheej ka darr nahi hota (When I have Parvesh by my side, I don't have to worry about anything)," Sunil responded quashing concerns of captaincy adding more pressure on his young shoulders.
"We understand by just the movement of the raiders that the other will go for the tackle. So when a raider enters one of our zones, the other immediately knows he has to come in support because a tackle is incoming. It's become instinctive for us and hence we don't give the raider time to react. It's our special skill," he added.
There's reason to believe him as Gujarat " under his captaincy and, more importantly, with a defence led by his potent alliance with Parvesh " sit on top of Zone A. They have lost just two game in the PKL so far and recently went on a nine-game unbeaten run, winning eight of those matches.
Having made a habit of winning tournaments together since their younger days, the duo now has its eyes set on the Pro Kabaddi League winners' medal. They came close last year, but Gujarat were beaten in the final by Patna Pirates.
Sunil and Parvesh have certainly carved out a reputation of their own, they are looked up as role models back home in Bhainswal, but the tricks that they learnt in their backyard during their childhood are still awaiting the validation that only a major title can bring.
As things stand, Sunil, Parvesh and the Gujarat Fortune Giants seem well on their way to addressing that.