MUMBAI: He may be down with a shoulder injury, but Siddharth Desai continues to rise in Pro Kabaddi League. The Kolhapur lad, who took the league by storm last year, became the first to breach the crore-mark at the Pro Kabaddi Season 7 auction in Mumbai on Monday, and fetched the highest prize money – Rs 1.45 crore — on the day. He was bought by Telugu Titans. This was also the second-highest price tag for a player in the league’s history.
Nitin Tomar was the only other player on auction who fetched more than a crore. While the Tamil Thalaivas won the four-way bid for him at Rs 1.20 crore, Puneri Paltan retained their lead raider by using the Final Bid Match (FBM).
Playing his debut season in Pro Kabaddi in 2018, Desai, while playing for U Mumba, finished with a whopping 218 raid points. Having raced to a 100 raid points in eight matches (a joint record for the fastest 100 in PKL), Desai finished third on the list of most raid points. As the two men ahead of him — Bengaluru Bulls’ Pawan Kumar Sehrawat and Pardeep Narwal of Patna Pirates — had been retained by their respective teams, Desai was bound to be the star attraction of the day.
Son of farmers, Desai was delighted after being picked by Titans for a huge sum. “I had expected around Rs 70-80 lakh,” Desai, 27, said. “But when they started the bidding at Rs 1 crore I started dancing with joy. There were times when I didn’t have enough money for fitness or nutrition.”
Though Desai has come through the traditional channels, playing for Air India and 2018 national champs Maharashtra, his rise has been rapid. He had taken to the game seriously only after Pro Kabaddi made such a splash on television. Tall and built for destruction, Desai juggernauted his way to fame last season. He suffered a shoulder injury mid-way through and had to undergo surgery in the off-season. It helped his cause that U Mumba’s coach in 2018, Gholamreza Mazandarani, is in the Titans camp this year and was keen on joining forces with him again.
While Desai joined the select list of crorepatis, Goyat, Rishank Devadiga and Rahul Chaudhari dropped out of it. “Rahul had been with us for six seasons, the longest by any player in this league with a team,” said Titans owner Srinivas Shreeramaneni. “But we are starting afresh and looking forward to building a team with Desai as the nucleus.”
Pro Kabaddi also expanded their horizons somewhat as an American player was bought for the very first time. DeWitt Jennings, a football player from USA, was signed on by the Titans for Rs 10 lakh.