Dabang Delhi lot better this time, says Coach Hooda

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Dabang Delhi is among the most improved sides in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), transforming into genuine title contenders in recent seasons after having to go through multiple struggles earlier.

From finishing in the bottom half of the table in the early seasons, the team has had a massive boost in their fortunes ever since coach Krishan Hooda came on board from season six, going on to win the title last season after finishing runners-up the year before.

Also critical to their increased consistency in recent seasons has been the rise of the big names such as star raider Naveen Kumar, who played a major role in the team’s run to title victory last year despite suffering an injury midway. Naveen is one of the major names going into this season.

And both Naveen and coach Hooda believe the team has all that it takes to become only the second team after Patna Pirates to successfully defend their title this year.

“We had senior and young players last season, and it’s the same this time around as we have both senior and young players such as Sandeep bhai sahib (Dhull), and Ravi (Kumar), Amit Hooda, etc.

“The team does change a bit, but the confidence remains the same, rather it’s twice as much this time around. There are a lot more youngsters this time around who perform really well. And we’ve played with these guys before, guys such as Vishal, Amit, Sandeep. So I think we’ll perform a lot better than we did the last time around,” Naveen said in a chat with Firstpost ahead of the start of the ninth season.

Hooda, who was bestowed with the Dronacharya Award in 2020, echoed the raider’s views when it came to talking about the team’s chances going forward.

“I have a lot of hopes this season, and am confident that the Dabang Delhi team this season is a lot better than the one we had last year. And I have belief in this team, in their ability to successfully defend the title this time around.

“We had a lot of senior, ‘old-age’ players last season. This time we have a lot of young blood in our ranks who are very talented at the same time. I have a lot of hopes from this team as far as their performance and their ability to defend the title is concerned.

“The performance that I’ve seen from this team so far looks even better than last year’s. There are no weaknesses in this team as such,” added Hooda, who revealed the team has gone through a 40-day camp in the build-up to their title defence this season.

Naveen enters his fourth season in the Pro Kabaddi League, having made his debut in Season 6 with Dabang Delhi. The Haryanvi has had a meteoric rise in the league since, then, becoming one of the top raiders in the league.

The Sultanpur, Haryana, native was adjudged the ‘Most Valuable Player’ (MVP) in Season 7 as the team reached the final for the first time, falling short of ultimate glory with a defeat to Bengal Warriors. ‘Naveen Express’ would then become the quickest to 600 raid points in the history of the league during Delhi’s title-winning run in Season 8, a feat that has undoubtedly cemented his status as a superstar of the sport.

Naveen however, had to overcome fitness-related obstacles last season. The raider had suffered a knee injury midway through the tournament and had to sit out of several games in the middle part of the season as a result.

While injuries are a regular occurrence in the life of an athlete, it is the battle with the demons in one’s mind that is the toughest to overcome, according to him. Dabang Delhi were progressing quite nicely around the time Naveen suffered the injury, and his biggest worry after getting sidelined was whether it would affect the team’s momentum going forward into the playoffs.

“The team was doing fairly well when I got injured last season, especially taking into account my own form before getting ruled out. I knew that the team’s belief was there and they believed in me, right from the coach to the manager. The only concern was whether the team would perform as efficiently without me and whether my absence would hurt the teams’ chances, whether they would have the kind of belief in other raiders the way they believed in me and my abilities. So you keep thinking about how the team will progress ahead.

“The biggest challenge one faces during an injury layoff is mental in nature, the fear in one’s mind regarding one’s recovery and form. What matters is that we don’t lose our confidence while recovering from the injury,” Naveen said.

As for the bright spot in his run last season, becoming the quickest ever to 600 raid points, Naveen said individual feats mattered little when compared to the team’s success.

“I am a raider, so collecting points is my job anyway, whether it’s 600 points or 700 points. But the team winning the title last season was the biggest achievement for me. And if we lift the trophy again this season, there wouldn’t be any achievement bigger than that for me.”

The ninth season of the Pro Kabaddi League begins on Friday, 7 October with defending champions Dabang Delhi KC taking on 2015 champions U Mumba in the opening game of the season at Bengaluru’s Shree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium.


Article by - Firstpost