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Why Maninder Singh had a 3-season absence from PKL

The second most successful raider in the history of the Pro Kabaddi League, Maninder Singh, explains his absence from PKL and how his love affair with fitness has kept him consistent.

Why Maninder Singh had a 3-season absence from PKL

Maninder Singh in action, carefully looking for his next target. (source: Pro Kabaddi)


Pritish Raj

Published: 28 Nov 2022 4:12 PM GMT

In 2014, when the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) started, many unknown kabaddi players became household names overnight. One of them was the strong raider from Punjab, Maninder Singh. Representing champions Jaipur Pink Panthers, he was the third-best raider from the first season with 130 points.

Though the PKL moved towards more glamour in the next few seasons, one notable absence was Maninder. For the next three seasons, the star raider from 2014 was nowhere to be seen. Fast forward to the fifth season - Maninder was picked by Bengal Warriors, and he finished among the top five raiders on his return.

In an exclusive interaction with The Bridge, the star raider sat down to talk about his three-year absence, how he worked in the shadows in that duration to become the consistent beast he has been since his return and his life beyond kabaddi.

Absence and Comeback

Even as Jaipur Pink Panthers reaped the benefits of their first-season exploits in subsequent years, Maninder was fighting a lone battle away from the spotlight due to an injury he had picked up during the first season.

At a crossroads in his career, Maninder had two options. One was to wait out the 14-month minimum recovery period and jump back into the heat of the PKL. The second option, much harder, but more long-term, was to build himself up enough so that such a thing could never again happen in his career.

"It was a bad injury. The recovery was to take a long time. The minimum estimated time was 14 months," Maninder recalled his moment of truth.

"With PKL coming into the picture, I wanted to have a prolonged career. I gave the required time to my injury and that is why I missed the next three seasons," he said.

Following doctors' suggestion of having a long recovery period before he returned to the PKL, Maninder gave himself three years to reinvent himself for the rigours of the PKL.

And his return has been nothing short of astronomical. Since his 3-season layoff, Maninder has scored more than 200 points every season, and he is the second player in the all-time highest raid points behind Pardeep Narwal.

Reasons behind Consistency

Besides being one of the strongest raiders in business, Maninder is also one of the most consistent. His all-time PKL record of 1201 points in 119 games is proof of that.

Talking about his mantra for fitness, Maninder said, "The most important thing for me is the diet. A clean diet which is properly balanced."

One of the modifications Maninder had to do during his three-year break was to modify his mindset on fitness. With the game going from the mud to the mat, this would be a crucial aspect for a modern kabaddi player. Sitting in 2022, seven years since he was forced off the mat, Maninder mentioned fitness and diet more than 20 times during a 10-minute interview.

"Fitness is very important to me. It is not something we should do in the season. Lamba process hai, har din karna padta hai (it is a continuous process and you have to do it every day). I believe that if you are fit, you will perform the skills (you want to) on the mat," he said.

Having a wrestler's build, Maninder guzzles milk but avoids junk food and everything that will harm his physique.

"Back home, I don't stop myself and have desi food. But during the season the diet changes. I focus on protein and eat chicken/mutton/fish consistently to keep myself fit and strong. Discipline is the key to such fitness and consistency. Lekin kabhi kabhi meetha kha leta hu (but I eat sweets at times)," Maninder flashed a sheepish smile.

From Circle Kabaddi to Pro Kabaddi League

The indigenous sport of kabaddi has multiple variations across the country, as well as across the border. Circle-style kabaddi is hugely popular on both sides of the border and has a huge fan base as it is played in the villages. It has a different format from what we witness in PKL.

A circle-style kabaddi raider in his earliest days, Maninder recounted his first impressions of the sport.

"I used to play circle-style kabaddi in school. I picked up the game from my father. The coaches in my school told me that I should try my hands at the standardised format. Then I started working for the Punjab Police and Ran Singh (Bengaluru Bulls) was there. He was an all-rounder, I started practising kabaddi more and more with him," he said.

Bengal Warriors- Season 7 Champions

After tasting victory in his very first season, Maninder captained Bengal Warriors to their maiden trophy in the 7th season with a young team.

"That season still feels like a dream. It was a brilliant season. Nobody gave us a chance as we were a team of debutants and young players. It was me and Jeeva Kumar who would plan usually. We had brilliant youngsters in form of Baldev and Rinku," Maninder smiled while recounting Season 7.

Few experts or fans had given them a chance against other strong teams that season.

"Nabibaksh was such a valuable player for us. He is a brilliant player and understood everything we said. Our team bonding was amazing. The whole team was functioning as a unit. From the people on the mat to the substitute's bench, everybody was eager to contribute," he said.

Life Beyond Kabaddi

"It has changed honestly. I never thought that kabaddi will reach here. It has grown by leaps and bounds. We live in good hotels, have good food and are well-recognised. The game has gone to the next level with so many technologies and new additions," said Maninder.

Besides the fans cheering in the stands, Maninder has someone else who cheers for him daily.

"She watches every game and cheers for me. My family will send me a video of her cheering for me. She knows all the technical terms and my full name too," Maninder beamed with joy as he spoke about his 2-year-old daughter, Gurneez Kaur.

It might have seemed to some that Maninder had been a one-season wonder a few years ago, but even today, fitness, a good diet, fans and his biggest cheerleader help him in bulldozing through defences and performing monster moves on the mat, leaving everyone in awe of the champion.

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