The 12-member squad for the Games was announced recently, raising a few eyebrows among the aficionados in the country. Defenders Po Surjeet Singh and Surender Nada were notable omissions from the outfit that travelled for the Kabaddi Masters Dubai (KMD). All-rounder Manjeet Chhillar failed to find a place too, with Gangadhari Mallesh earning a surprise call-up.
“Players earn their spot in the starting seven based on performance. Girish Ernak was outstanding at the KMD, he could possibly be a replacement for Nada. At any given point of time, only the best will get to play on the mat for the country,” Ajay Thakur spoke on the selection.
“It is important to have experienced players but you also require young legs in the squad. I feel the intelligence of the senior players along with the thirst of the youngsters will help us perform better,” added Thakur, captain of Pro Kabaddi League franchise Tamil Thalaivas.
Thakur, who has the longest arms in the business, reached out to high-school students of Chinmaya Vidyalaya here as a part of the ‘Raid for Gold’ initiative by Mashal Sports. India has been the undisputed king in this discipline at the Games as the national team guns for its eighth consecutive gold medal. The 32-year-old was optimistic of continuing this purple patch, which spans over a period of 28 years.
“Triumph at the KMD has instilled a lot of confidence in our team. We played quite well against three of our biggest rivals – Iran, Pakistan and Republic of Korea,” he asserted.
“We have been working on rectifying our mistakes we committed there, in our preparatory camp. We are confident but we must also make sure we aren’t complacent. We will go into every game with a mindset that it is the toughest challenge ahead,” remarked Thakur.
The mere utterance of his name was enough to bring the roof down at the venue, with students giving him a rousing reception. Pupils later queued up in numbers to interact with the talismanic star.
After Chennai Super Kings skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Thakur has become the city’s new adopted son, also earning him the nickname ‘Thala’. Much to the delight of the spectators, the Himachal Pradesh-based lad began his address with ‘Vanakkam Chennai’. He even managed to turn the auditorium into a mini arena, passing his words of wisdom to the raiders of the school team during a simulation match on stage.