Bequeathed with unreserved and imperceptible skills, vivo Pro Kabaddi's Pardeep Narwal is on the same legendary level as the FC Barcelona striker.
"If he's on the sort of form I think he is, no defence can stop him. That's impossible," said a resigned Pep Guardiola, then the manager of Bayern Munich. "There's no defensive system. He's too good.
"In light of that, we'll have to try to limit him another way. But it's still going to be tough because you can't defend against talent," he summed as they prepared to face Barcelona at Camp Nou in 2015.
Pep Guardiola was referring to Lionel Messi, the diminutive Argentinean who has been scything past defenders effortlessly, the ball magnetically attracted to his foot, guiding it towards cowering goalkeepers as they prepared for the inevitable.
It's the same inevitable feeling that the defenders feel in vivo Pro Kabaddi when the burly Pardeep Narwal ducks and dives from the prying hands of the opposition leaving behind a squalor of a strategy that earns his side a bucketload of points every time he heads out for a raid.
"I know he will go for the dubki but still he manages to get away," explains ace defender Surjeet Singh. "He has the skill."
Pardeep Narwal's signature dubki, a move wherein he ducks against a wall of defenders that try and hold him back whenever he steps into their half of the kabaddi mat, has earned the Patna Pirates star plenty of points.
Despite his physical presence, blessed with upper body strength and agile feet, he can shift his weight effortlessly with some evasive manoeuvres more a reflex than a calculated move.
Defining the course of matches
It's fluid, like Leo Messi guiding the ball from near the halfway line, fending off three hopefuls of Athletic Bilbao close to the touchline, then dismissing another trio of defence in the penalty area cutting through them fine to score an extremely tight first goal of the 2015 Copa Del Rey final.
Two years later in India, Pardeep Narwal made little work of the Haryana Steelers defenders. He enticed one pair on the right to pounce on him, with two more defenders bringing up the rear that attempted to catch hold of his ankle while the duo on the left rounded him up ahead of the midline. Pardeep Narwal's mass pushed away the first assault, deftly shook off the second wave and ducked under the final attempt to oust all six defenders in a single raid. It earned him six points, and his team an additional two, making it an eight-point raid. It was unprecedented.
Just like Lionel Messi's opener in 2015, Pardeep Narwal's strike proved to be unassailable and defined the course of the match.
Both Lionel Messi and Pardeep Narwal have revolutionised their respective sports and have been creating waves. Both are extremely agile, have bursts of frightening speed, and as Pep Guardiola and Surjeet Singh attest, predictably unpredictable as they make critical yet viable decisions in the heat of the moment.
"You know he's going to go to your left, but he still goes past you," Cesc Fàbregas said of Leo Messi. "You see it a thousand times on television and you say, 'how is it that they don't get the ball off him and he always goes to the left?' Even knowing and anticipating that, you still can't."
That certain something
They aren't alone as both have peers that display similar skills. Cristiano Ronaldo has sparked several debates over the world's best tag while vivo Pro Kabaddi has monikers like 'Raid Machine' bestowed upon Rahul Chaudhari.
But like Lionel Messi, Pardeep Narwal draws in a visual appeal to his talent and his record-breaking spree. Their goals and raids are dramatic, get in the action deeper, and provide an anticipation every time they near the goalposts or test waters deep of a seven-man defensive line.
It's this intangible dexterity, the ability to have extraordinary peripheral vision, anticipate moves ahead and make last-second decisions that sets them apart. This isn't just the result of practice but an innate vision that can only be credited to their genes.
Lionel Messi has worked hard to sharpen his reflexes to an extent where he instinctively changes directions or varies his speed with the ball when he is caught off guard, making passes when he is least expected to.
It's the same with Pardeep Narwal, weighing in about 80kg he fluently frog jumps over defenders, his arms often dug in the backs of a charging defender, catapulting him over and front-rolling over to his side to complete a raid.
Records raids and goals
Pardeep Narwal, a native of Haryana, also darts across the mat to explore or attack, the sudden changes of direction sometimes disorientating for the mortal audience. This creates opportunities, as the defenders get desperate to tame what has been a prolific scorer and that orchestrates a failed defensive move, allowing him to score. Pretty much like the Argentinian in Barcelona.
"When he is confident and plays his own game, there is not a single defensive unit that can stop him," proclaimed Patna Pirates coach Ram Mehar Singh. "The matches that we have lost or tied are because Pardeep got tackled. He is probably the best raider I have seen."
Understandably, their records are numerous too. Lionel Messi has consistently been the highest scorer for Barcelona since the 2009-10 season. He also holds the record for the most goals in a single La Liga season. While it is still relatively early for the prodigious Pardeep Narwal, he was the highest scorer for his Pro Kabaddi team of Patna Pirates in his debut season and has continued that record for all subsequent seasons thereafter. His 369 points in Season 5 is the highest in a single campaign so far.
Lionel Messi is one of football's most valuable players, having won the FIFA Ballon D'Or in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 and Pardeep Narwal has been one of kabaddi's most valuable players, winning the Most Valuable Player title in vivo Pro Kabaddi for two straight seasons and the accolade of the top raider in the next one.
Though there may be a difference in the sport these men chose to take up, there can be no doubt in their natural ability and unceasing determination to be the best at their craft. They are probably the most entertaining and most followed players in their sport having enthusiasts marvel at and then try to copy their signature moves.
Lionel Messi is a legend in his own right, and if there were a counterpart in the world of kabaddi, the Haryana native would be on the ball.