Puneri Paltan have proved to be one of the heavyweights this season in VIVO Pro Kabaddi, with the team combining wonderfully under Deepak Hooda. Having the right mix of experience and young blood, Pune have asserted their dominance from the outset with a number of young players coming to the fore and contributing consistently. Pune’s young raider Akshay Jadhav recently sat down for a tête-à-tête with prokabaddi.com and shared his journey from Kolhapur to the hallowed stage of VIVO Pro Kabaddi. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

How did your tryst with kabaddi start?

I belong to Kolhapur. I started playing kabaddi when I was in school. In Kolhapur, kabaddi is a big sport and there are a lot of kabaddi players. I started playing there before coming to Pune.

Tell us about your journey to VIVO Pro Kabaddi.

I played a number of tournaments at different levels. I got selected for the sub-junior state team of Maharashtra and also captained the side. I made it to the junior team soon. When I was playing in local tournaments, a kabaddi club from Pune saw my game and offered me to play for them. After playing there I got selected for the state team and played the national tournament. Thereafter, I got selected for Pro Kabaddi.

What was your family’s reaction when you got selected for VIVO Pro Kabaddi?

Everyone was very happy that I was playing in the league. My father was also a kabaddi player but he didn’t get the opportunity to perform at this level. So, he was very happy about it.

How different is it to play in front of so many people and also with the game being broadcast live?

Yes, it is something new and different for me but it doesn’t affect me because my team gives me the responsibility to get points in do-or-die raids. So I only focus on that.

What were the challenges that you faced as a kabaddi player?

I didn’t face many challenges because everyone supported me to play. I had some injuries during the last season. Other than that, there have not been many challenges.

According to you, how has VIVO Pro Kabaddi impacted the life of the players?

It has changed the life of the players immensely. Now every player is recognised all across the country. We got a lot of fame as well, which gives us the motivation to perform well in every season.

How was your experience of representing Maharashtra in the national tournament?

I was a new player in the squad playing alongside superstars like Rishank Devadiga, Nilesh Shinde and others. We were playing against Haryana and I was scared because in their team they had Anup Kumar, Manjeet Chhillar and others playing. When I went in to raid, I first touched Sandeep Narwal and then got a touch on Manjeet Chhillar.

You are mainly used in do-or-die raids, so tell us how you maintain your calm in such a situation?

In the practice sessions, the coach tells us how we should raid in do-or-die situations. So it is not that difficult to get points in those situations.

What is important for a do-or-die raider?

It’s just like either you hit or get tackled. I think it is very important to get points in the first 15 seconds of the raid because in the last 10 seconds the raider gets pressurised and makes a mistake.

What are your expectations from the team this season?

We are confident that we will come out on top, we will definitely try to become champions this season.