Telugu Titans will need an improved showing in the second half of VIVO Pro Kabaddi Season 5 if they’re to make it beyond the league stage. Led by Raid Machine Rahul Chaudhari, the Titans have made a poor start to their season that has put their qualification credentials in great peril. Having spent majority of the campaign in the bottom half of Zone B, only a strong finish will give them an outside chance of making it beyond the league phase.

All-rounder Rakesh Kumar, who has been a part of the league since its inaugural season, recently sat down with and shared his thoughts on how the game has grown over the past few years. “It has grown immensely. Kabaddi has become really popular in the last five years and I don’t think that any other sport has become so popular in such a short span of time. Everything has changed, the format, the players, fan following and everything has grown,” he said.

Having said that, he insisted that the influx of four new teams doesn’t necessarily mean that the league now was more challenging than it had been the previous seasons. “It was difficult last year as well but I don’t think that it matters to the players. Last year we played two matches with every team, this year the games have increased. I think it’s really nice that we have more matches because the youngsters will get more opportunities and it’s nice for the sport as well,” Kumar opined.

An Arjuna Award winner for his contribution to the sport of kabaddi, Kumar showered praise on the New Young Players (NYP) programme that aims at unearthing hidden gems in the sport at grassroots level. “I think it’s [NYP] a really nice programme that they have started because of which the young players are getting opportunities. We can see that in all teams there are young players. So, this platform is a really good initiative,” he said.

Kumar was also effusive in his praise of Telugu Titans’ young defender Vishal Bhardwaj, who has been one of the few positives from their season so far. “Vishal is really performing well for the team. He is a young player and we didn’t expect him to perform that well but he has proved us wrong and has been performing consistently. As a young player, there is pressure what if he makes a mistake and it costs the match but the performance that he is giving is brilliant. If a young player performs well, it also gives the senior players motivation to perform and if he performs like this, he will definitely become the best defender in the game,” he said.

The experienced all-rounder ended the interview by offering a valuable insight into the difference between a domestic and foreign talent in VIVO Pro Kabaddi. The skill and technique which Indian players have; foreign players don’t. They are physically fitter than Indian players but the technique which the Indian players have is superior.

“The foreign players like Meraj [Sheykh], Fazel [Atrachali] and Jang Kun Lee have learned a lot from this league and they are still learning. The endurance and fitness of the foreign players is really good but the skill and technique which the Indian players have, they don’t,Kumar concluded.