November 27, 2016
Cricket and kabaddi are my favourite sports and I do not miss watching any match whenever I get a chance. I have always dreamt of meeting a player from one of these sports. Never did I imagine that I would get a chance to talk to Kabaddi player Dharmaraj Cheralathan. India’s most dangerous defender, Cheralathan played a crucial role in India lifting the world cup on October 22. As skipper of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) team Patna Pirates, he also led his team to victory to retain the title on July 31. Covai Post provided me an opportunity to talk to Cheralathan. Excerpts of my chat with him over phone:
Q: Tell me about your childhood and your school days.
I hail from the Grand Anicut area in Thanjavur district. I studied in Sivasamy Iyer Higher Secondary School at Thiruchellampoondi near Thirukattupalli. It used to be a routine life — home, school, studies, games and fun. We would play all kinds of games in the evenings after school and kabaddi was one of them.
When did you develop a keen interest in kabaddi and how was the support from your family?
As I mentioned, kabaddi was one of the games my friends and I would play in the village grounds. But when I was class 7, I started developing an interest in the game and while in grade 8, I got into it seriously. My maternal uncle saw my interest in the game and he supported me a lot. Thankfully my parents too did not stop me from playing my favourite game.
Were there any teams at that time and who was your coach?
The first team I represented was called Edhir Neechal in my village. There were no coaches or training camps as such and we learnt the game all by ourselves through trial and error. We would always look forward to playing tournaments. Come rain or shine, the games would continue.
What was the turning point of your career?
The Sun Paper Mills, run by Daily Thanthi founder Adithanar, formed a team and I was part of it. Adithanar was keen on developing the sport and he encouraged us a lot. In fact, we paid regular salaries for playing. Though we were not working there, we were paid a monthly salary. It came as a big boost to us and made us more determined to prove ourselves on the court. Representing Sun Paper Mills was a turning point in my life.
Tell us about PKL.
Pro Kabaddi League has taken the game to new heights. Till PKL, kabaddi was a village game played by youth as a casual sport. PKL took the entire world by storm. Never did I imagine that the game would get such a global recognition. The cheers we get from the audience and the love they show is something unimaginable.
How did you get into PKL and how did you feel when you were selected?
After completing 10th standard I got a job in Southern Railways in 1997. I was representing Railways in the game. The authorities saw my game and my approach, and I was selected for Bengaluru Bulls in the first two seasons. I played for Telugu Titans during season three and for Patna Pirates in the fourth season. I was really excited and happy when I was selected during the first season.
Your most unforgettable moment and season?
That was season four, when my team Patna Pirates retained the title under my captaincy in July. I was thrilled when we lifted the trophy amid cheers from the crowd. But the most unforgettable moment in my life was when India won the world cup this year on October 22. I just cannot forget that moment in my life. I am glad that I was part of the team that won the world cup.
Which team did you consider the toughest opponent in the world cup?
Of course, Iran. Though Indian players know the game in and out, Iran has always given us tough competition. Other teams are also doing their best.
You play with some foreign players in the same team during PKL. You also played with them as an opponent during the world cup. How do you handle such players? For example, Iran player Fazel Atrachali. He was with you in Patna Pirates and within a few months you both were in opposite teams fighting each other. How was the experience?
(Laughs) Yes, when we are in the same team we get to know about the player’s plus and minus points. We tend to work on it together when we are on the same side. But when we are opponents, we will know how to handle the player. That is the case for me and even for Fazel. We know how to handle each other, both as a friend and as an opponent. We wait for the right moment to tackle the player.
And what about language? Do players have a language problem while in the dressing room or on the court? How do you communicate with one another especially during PKL?
We manage somehow. Fazel Atrachali, Hadi Oshtorak and Abolfazel Maghsodlo are from Iran. They are part of the Patna Pirates team. We manage with English in the dressing room during our discussions and in the court only body language matters and it works perfectly. We all have a common goal of winning the match and we all have perfect understanding.
Coming to the Indian team, who is your best friend and your favourite raider and defender?
All the players are my friends. I am close to Ajay Thakur. My favourite raider is Sanjeev Kumar and defender is Raja Ratnam. Both are very senior players and Arjuna award winners. I consider them my gurus.
Do you have any plans to start a kabaddi academy post-retirement?
Definitely yes. I want to start an academy. I live in Secunderabad. I will start an academy either in Chennai or Hyderabad or Thanjavur. Will decide at an appropriate time.
What is your advice to aspiring young kabaddi players?
Be sincere to the game and put in your best effort. Dedication is most important and you can reach great heights.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own
(Krishna Bharadwaj is 14 years old and follows kabaddi avidly. He is a member of Aarohi O campus at Kelamangalam in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu)