Telugu Titans may not have had an ideal VIVO Pro Kabaddi Season 5 campaign with the team failing to get the correct combination but it’s a team full of star players and promising youngsters. Nilesh Salunke had been an important pick for the Titans at the auction and he has shown his worth as the league has progressed. Close to picking up 100 points this season, he has ably aided Rahul Chaudhari in the raiding department. In an exclusive interview with recently, Salunke mapped his entire kabaddi journey to give us a glimpse of the man behind the focussed exterior. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

How did your tryst with kabaddi start?

I started playing kabaddi when I was in school but because of my poor financial conditions I had to quit school and start working. I started playing again but still faced a lot of problems. My elder brother was also a kabaddi player but he didn’t get a job anywhere due to which my parents did not support my playing after seeing my elder brother’s situation. This made me determined and I started practising more to improve my game. I joined a club and started playing for them. Then, I was on a contract with Air India and later with Mahindra & Mahindra as well and now finally I have a job in the Income Tax department. Before we used to stay in a rented house but because of Pro Kabaddi, I have been able to buy my own house.

How did you enter VIVO Pro Kabaddi?

I used to play local and national tournaments. There the team coaches would come and watch our game and if they liked a player, they picked them for their team. I was in U Mumba’s camp in the second season. Then in the third season, I became a part of Puneri Paltan where I got to play two matches. Thereafter, I got an opportunity to play for Telugu Titans, where I performed very well for the team as well as for myself. In this season, I got a bid of Rs 49 lakh which is the highest amongst the players of Maharashtra.

How has VIVO Pro Kabaddi impacted the life of young players?

Before Pro Kabaddi, parents did not send their children to play kabaddi as they were concerned about the injuries which may happen but now the times have changed. Because of Pro Kabaddi, the parents are encouraging their kids to go and play kabaddi. The league is shown live and so many people across the world watch it. So, it has given a lot of opportunities to the young players.

Tell us about the kabaddi scene in Mumbai.

There is a lot of craze for kabaddi, not only in Mumbai but across the state. Kabaddi is huge. We have so many tournaments and there is a lot of respect for the sport in Mumbai.

Who is your idol in the sport?

Rakesh Kumar is my idol because he is the most senior player in the squad and handles everything on the ground. He also guides us from time to time.

Super raid or super tackle, which is difficult?

Super raid is difficult because there will be around seven players from the opposition and there is only one raider.

How much pressure do you feel when you step on the mat?

There was pressure when I first stepped onto the mat but now it has become a habit. Now there is no pressure.

Any message for Telugu Titans fans...

I just want to tell them not to lose hope. Every team here has come to win. We will try to perform better and not let you down next season.