On the 31st of May 2018, kabaddi fans all over the world waited in bated breath as the VIVO Pro Kabaddi League auction was the talk of the town, as the twelve franchises in the fray were involved in a heated battle to pick some of the best names in the business and strengthen their squads ahead of the sixth season.
Amongst the twelve teams, U Mumba created an early stir on the first day as they raised the paddle repeatedly and as they settled down to soak in the vociferous applause, knew that they had their skipper in the bag – Iranian defender Fazel Atrachali for ₹1 crore.
Now, it was only a matter of building the team around the Iranian, who’s presence was bound to take U Mumba to greater heights in the upcoming season. As the second day drew to a close, the Ronnie Screwvala-owned franchise was yet again in the thick of things as they quite literally broke the bank to procure the services of young Siddharth Sirish Desai – unknown to the league – for a record price of ₹36 lakh.
Fast-forward a little over five months, Siddharth Desai is the hottest property in Indian kabaddi at the present moment.
With a perfect mix of pace and maturity, Siddharth Desai has taken the league by storm and with that, put some of the best defenders to shame with the top-flight raiding that has fetched him 97 raid points from just seven matches at an astonishing average of 13.8 raid points per game.
Desai’s prowess – in only his debut season – has not been one to go past as he has been pitted against some of the most successful defenders of all time and has breezed past the challenge with utmost ease.
Hailing from Kolhapur in Maharashtra, Desai claims that his inclination towards Kabaddi hit him at a very young age and coming from a family that is heavily involved in kabaddi, his introduction to the game was not replete with exciting stories.
“My father was a Kabaddi player and my brother plays for the Army and is a member of the Services team, which gave me a look into Kabaddi at a very young age”, he claims as he adds that his primary goal was to appear on TV and be recognised all over the country.
“Back at home, I used to watch the Pro Kabaddi League and the major driving force for me was to appear on TV one day. Hence, with this outlook, I took a liking towards Kabaddi”, he says, with a big smile on his face.
For most people who are introduced to the sport for the very first time, the physical level demanded by the sport shocks their perception of the game as they either term it ‘Cruel’ or ‘Life-threatening’. However, neither of that is the case for young Desai, who comes with Athletics as his main calling card before kabaddi.
“Before I took up Kabaddi, I was very interested in athletics. I used to participate in the shot put, discus throw, long jump, and triple jump. I had a big inclination toward athletics”.
Just like any other sportsperson, Desai too has emerged from the local level, and with impressive performances for his local club and at the state level, the lanky raider has risen the ranks to where he is today. Far from crediting himself, Desai opts to shine a light on the men behind the scenes.
“I have had a lot of luck in the initial part of my career, where I was blessed to have the support of my club owner Baburao Sir and also my coach. Both of them have been like father figures to me and have always been by my side to support me and push me to achieve bigger things,” he says, commending the contributions of both his coaches.
Playing his debut season and with a massive price tag on his head, Siddharth Desai was a man to watch out for even before the league stages, after his exploits in the Senior Nationals, which earned him a lot of praise from Iranian coach Gholamreza Mazandarani, who Desai believes is a big part of his success this season.
“The Iranian coach, ahead of the season ensured that I was put through a lot of strengthening and functional training, which made me more confident and added a lot more flexibility to my style of play. Before the PKL, I had never done any functional training, and hence that went a long way to shaping my fitness levels before the season.”
Apart from Siddharth Desai, the presence of left corner Fazel Athrachali, who is leading the side this season has been the other standout feature in U Mumba’s campaign this season, and the youngster speaks very highly of his captain.
” Fazel is like a big brother to me; he is always ready to give me advice on what to do and how to tackle the opposition. He knows the weak links in the opposition defence and his understanding of the game always helps me to raid without any pressure”.
In only his debut game for U Mumba, Desai was pitted against two of the most prominent defenders in the world in Girish Ernak and Sandeep Narwal. The young raider made raiding look like just another walk in the park as he finished with a whopping 15 raid points. Quizzed on his approach that fetched him a host of points as Sandeep was left diving on the youngster’s ankles repeatedly without any luck, Desai brushed it off as a matter of experience.
“Yes, there was a lot of pressure considering that it was my debut game and I was playing against Girish Ernak and Sandeep Narwal. However, I had played alongside both of them during the All-India tournament, and hence I knew how to negate their threat,” Desai said, bringing his mature approach to the table.
” I had never thought in even the wildest of my dreams that I would be compared with the likes of Pardeep Narwal and Rahul Chaudhari, two of the biggest names in Indian kabaddi and it is indeed a very good feeling,” says the youngster, on being placed at the same level of top guns Pardeep and Rahul Chaudhari.
Although Desai is only seven games old in the Pro Kabaddi League, he has already exceeded a whole lot of expectations and has left a significant mark on the league. Nevertheless, he turns back to his roots and deals a special mention to his older brother, who Siddharth Desai claims is the biggest inspiration behind his success.
“My elder brother is my biggest inspiration to take up kabaddi. He is the one who introduced me to the game, helped me to get into the club in Pune where I practised to pursue a career in the sport and taught me to maintain my fitness and skill-sets. Mainly because of him, I have come such a long way in a short time.”
All in all, Siddharth Desai has undoubtedly stamped his dominance as one of the best raiders in the league and has served as a competition for the likes of Pardeep Narwal and Rahul Chaudhari, who’s big reputation has been put in jeopardy.
All by one man, who goes by the name of Siddharth Sirish Desai.