Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Camera: Sumit Badola
On the opening day of the Pro Kabaddi League 2018, a tall-dark-handsome player made his debut after a long wait. At 26, Siddharth Sirish Desai had enough experience playing the sport, but never before was it at a stage so big. He had waited for this day for four years, and when it finally arrived, so did he.
In his debut PKL game for Ronnie Screwvala-owned U Mumba, Siddharth scored an impressive 14 raids points, and was named the 'Perfect Raider of the Match’. Just one game in, and people were already talking about the boy from Maharashtra and his potential to join the Crore-club in his next auction.
Soon after, Siddharth became the fastest player to score 50 raid points in the history of the tournament, reaching the landmark in just four games.
"“This is my debut season, and no player had seen me before this. This has been a golden chance for me. I never thought I would become the fastest to 50 raid points. I just wanted to play for my team, and help them win. I don’t want to set any records. If my team plays well, it’s beneficial for me too.”" - Siddharth Desai
After trumping stars Ajay Thakur and Anup Kumar’s record of reaching the 50-raid point mark, Siddharth became the joint-fastest with Rahul Chaudhari to score 100 raid points.
Hailing from Phulewadi town in the city of Kolhapur, kabaddi was a part of Siddharth’s growing up years; both his father and brother had played the sport. “Ghar main kabaddi ka hamesha mahol tha (Kabaddi was much discussed at home),” he said.
"“I come from a rural area where kabaddi was the only sport played. Nor is there any big ground. The population must be just about 300 people. So we used to make a ground in the farms, and play there.” " -
But when he first showed interest in making the sport his career, Siddharth was advised against it. In fact his brother, who he had always looked up to, said he should instead be focusing on his education.
“I started playing kabaddi when I was in the first grade. Earlier, I was good in studies so I took on the kabaddi mat late. While pursuing my studies, I told my brother that I want to play professionally. But he refused, and said I should concentrate on my studies. By the time I completed my studies, Pro Kabaddi had started and all the players who used to play with me were coming on TV. So even I wanted to do something in kabaddi, and come on TV,” Siddharth said.
In the meantime, he continued playing for clubs at the local level. But once Pro Kabaddi started gaining prominence, and he completed his studies, Siddharth decided it was time to go pro. It was however, a bit late.
To be able to play in the league, a player needs to be either younger than 22 or be a National level player.
“I couldn’t participate in the PKL so far because to be a NYP (New Young Player) you have to be younger than 22. Or the other option is that you should have played Nationals. Since I was about 22, I had to play the Senior Nationals.”
In 2018, he found a place in Maharashtra’s team that went on to lift the senior nationals trophy, and was henceforth qualified to play in the league. A few months later, Siddharth attracted a bidding war at the Pro Kabaddi League auction, and was eventually bagged by his home-team U Mumba for a massive Rs 36.4 lakh – almost five times his base price.
Ten matches into the sixth edition of the league, and Desai has been the biggest find of the season so far. With a total of 119 raid points and 122 points overall, he is currently the top raider, the highest-scorer and also has most the number of successful raids, as well as most Super 10s.
And with such an impeccable record in the this highly-competitive league, there’s only one logical next step for the PKL star – representing India. Needless to say, that is his ultimate dream as well.
"“If I keep my performances consistent, I hope I can play for India one day. India is the last limit. Asian Games is the last limit. World Cup and Asian Games.”" - Siddharth Desai
(This story was first published on 13 November 2018 and has been reposted from The Quint's archives after Siddharth Desai's Rs 1.45 crore bid in the Pro Kabaddi 2019 auction.)
. Read more on Kabaddi by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsElections 2019: Congress Moves EC to Stop Telecast of 3 Serials . Read more on Kabaddi by The Quint.