CHENNAI: Rahul Chaudhari is known as ‘Showman’ in Pro Kabaddi League circles. His physics-defying raids and heart-stopping buzzer-beaters contributed to that nickname. He is also a household name in this part of the country — the decibel levels recorded at the jam-packed Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium on Saturday was ample evidence. For those interested, the cheers for his first raid point registered 109.8 on the db(Z) scale. That’s as loud as a power mower.
However, there was a time when Chaudhari’s touch had deserted him. August 23, 2018, to be exact. On a night meant to celebrate India’s continuing mastery of the mat, Iran had other ideas. In one of the greatest upsets in sport, the latter bested India, owner of seven Asian Games gold, in the semifinal. Chaudhari, expected to star in the tournament, and his teammates had reacted like they had seen a ghost after the second half.
In one of the first public utterances since that semifinal defeat, the Tamil Thalaivas raider lifted the veil on what went down before, during and after the final. “We were perhaps a touch overconfident (ahead of the final),” he told this daily a day ahead of the Chennai leg of PKL. “We underestimated them a touch.” While the team did prepare for the semifinal normally, there was this belief within the team that their proud history would carry them through.
That belief, the former Telugu Titans raider said, evaporated as soon as Iran took the lead. “There were a few problems coming into the tournament (referring to the case filed by two former kabaddi players who had alleged that the strongest team wasn’t sent to Jakarta). These problems meant we started to grow nervous as soon as Iran took and consolidated the lead in the second half.” That tallies well with what happened — the usually fleet-footed Indians had become leaden-footed in a matter of minutes. The match was as good as up.
The post-match scenes in the dressing room were something else, according to Chaudhari. “I saw Ajay Thakur cry for the first time.” Revenge, though, could be around the corner. Both teams will be among the leading contenders at the kabaddi World Cup next year. For the time being though, he is focused on righting Thalaivas’ horrible record in the PKL. “My aim this year is to give the gold to this city.”