VIVO Pro Kabaddi Season 5 is in its final stages after seeing the longest season yet. Fans engagement though has refused to wane and teams are still playing to packed stadiums and an enthusiastic television audience. A large credit for this sustained interest must go to the people who hold the television audience captive while they tell the story of the match as it unfolds. caught up with one such member of the commentary team, Manish Batavia as he discussed his opinions on the change in viewership, his preparations before a match and much more. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

What are your thoughts on Season 5 of VIVO Pro Kabaddi?

We were all very excited and there was a positive anxiety about how this league will go with four new teams and a lot of new players. There was a strong belief that we will see a lot of new stars grabbing this opportunity. We have all seen that how Gujarat is playing and they are shocking all the teams. They were only beaten by Haryana Steelers who are also making their debut. We have seen a good mix this time. We had seen a lot of magic created last season and the youngsters were fantastic. As per the ratings we are doing way better than the last season. There is a lot of buzz about VIVO Pro Kabaddi, so when people come to know that we are associated with Pro Kabaddi they are curious and ask a lot of questions about our job. I think the kind of buzz which kabaddi has created is similar to what cricket had in the 90s.

How different is this season as compared to the previous seasons according to you?

We have been challenged like never before because everyone in the world watches this league now. I mean there is a lot of buzz on social media. People from other countries are talking about this sport as well. The biggest challenge is to keep up with the pace of the game because after the new players have come in, the pace has gone up. The Haryana coach said that the old players have to perform better because this season the younger players will come out on top. He believes that it’s the younger player who will define how this season will be watched. Last season we were done with the league by this time but this season we are yet to finish the final home leg as of now. Also, all teams are beatable and we have to watch the matches till the very last moment. We have hardly seen any one-sided matches so far.

How difficult it is to sustain your energy because you have to work every day?

Working and being a part of the commentary team is a happy habit for me and I don’t know what I will be doing on 29th October after the league ends.

How do you prepare for your role?

My commentary hero Harsha Bhogle told me that “sport is an unscripted drama”. I don’t have a script. Commentary is about conveying the action to the people watching back home. My preparations involve watching the players and tracking how they are playing, how often a player has been tackled by a particular defender and a lot of other things. There is a lot of extensive preparation. There is a lot of drama in those 40 minutes. For me the biggest challenge is to not lose my focus. We have to stay calm in the commentary box. We have to make an interesting narrative so that we can convey the action to the fans without being boring.

Who is your favourite team or player?

For me it’s U Mumba. U Mumba is a team only thanks to Anup Kumar because they can turn the game whenever they want. I remember in Season 3 they had won seven matches in a row. I wanted to see U Mumba getting challenged which is happening this season. The other team is Gujarat Fortunegiants because I am Gujarati. I was there in Ahmedabad when the Kabaddi World Cup took place. There is a lot of excitement in Ahmedabad about kabaddi. The hotel employees were constantly asking me in Gujarati whether Gujarat will win. Now people are using kabaddi terms in their day-to-day conversations. This shows how successful the sport has become and this is just the beginning.

Are there any challenges you face while commentating?

For me the biggest challenge is to remember names because I have a terrible memory. There are so many players with similar surnames like Chhillar and Narwal so to remember them all I have to rely on my preparation.

Do you have any messages for kabaddi fans?

We cannot thank the fans enough because they are the ones who have made this sport successful. The show ratings are important but for me the fans are more important than these metrics.