CHENNAI: WHEN the inaugural Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) was launched in 2014, one city was conspicuous by its absence — Chennai. The city was to have a franchise but last minute problems meant that Patna entered the fray. It was bizarre that the league was going ahead without a team from Tamil Nadu, one of the sport’s nerve centres. It’s so synonymous that the name itself has its roots in tamil — kai-pidi (to hold hands).
Players from the State — nearly 30 play in the PKL — were hoping for fresh developments every week. One of them privately confided to Express last year that ‘even though I make decent money from the new league, it will be nothing if I get to play in front of my home fans in Chennai’. The PKL answered that wish in emphatic fashion on Friday as a press release confirmed that the expanded league will have a team from Chennai. “Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat have been primarily chosen for their high affinity towards kabaddi with massive fan bases,” it said.
Needless to say the TN players are extremely happy. “Extremely delighted,” was Dharmaraj Cheralathan’s take. The 43-year-old, who was a part of the Indian team that won the World Cup last year, was even more happy thanks to the identity of one of the owners. “Sachin Tendulkar owning a Chennai team...,” he tailed off.
Jeeva Kumar, a cult figure among the TN players in the league, also welcomed the move but for a different reason. “We cannot assume that just because there is a team from Chennai, they will pick a lot of Tamil Nadu players,” he said. “However, this is important because this provides the necessary incentive for TN players who aren’t yet part of PKL. There are a lot of us back home playing in the district matches and Nationals wondering whether we will get an opportunity to play to prove ourselves. This will definitely provide an added incentive to those boys.”
A few of them are already training to be part of the process. “There are close to 130 Under-23 India players training in Mumbai right now hoping to be PKL’s next breakout stars. Out of that, close to 30 are from there,” a source told Express. Will they get picked? May 22, the auction date, will tell the answer.