Jaipur Pink Panthers ran into troubled waters early in their campaign this season as they lost star raider Selvamani K and captain Manjeet Chhillar to injuries. Luckily for them, a number of their young players rose to the occasion and made sure the team stayed in the hunt for the play-offs even without the duo. One such youngster is all-rounder Nitin Rawal who has rescued his team from tough situations on a number of occasions this season. He shot to fame after scoring his first Super 10 against hosts Haryana Steelers to hold them to a draw in Sonepat and has gone from strength to strength from there. But kabaddi wasn’t always Rawal’s first love.

“I didn’t have any interest in kabaddi when I was a child,” revealed the youngster in a chat with prokabaddi.com recently, “I was interested in cricket. However, my uncle, who was a kabaddi player, used to insist that I play kabaddi instead of cricket. He never let me play cricket since he always wanted me to be a kabaddi player. Eventually I gave in and started going to the kabaddi ground to practise. It is because of him that I am a kabaddi player today.”

But once he took to the sport, his natural ability allowed him to rise to the top quickly. “I started off playing for my school and soon got picked for the district level, state level and junior nationals. From there I was selected to train at SAI [Sports Authority of India] before getting a call to play for Jaipur in VIVO Pro Kabaddi,” said Rawal, “Initially I did not get to play much but some of our players picked up injuries because of which I was handed the opportunity.”

Rawal grabbed the opportunity with both hands and eventually became a vital member of the Pink Panthers unit. Captain Manjeet, he says, was the calming influence on him who made sure the young all-rounder was never under excess pressure in his debut season. “When I came in to play, Manjeet (Chhillar) told me to focus only on my raiding and play with a free mind, which helped me calm my nerves,” said Rawal.

Rawal has a long way to go as a kabaddi player but the youngster still had some words of advice for aspiring kabaddi players who might want to break onto the big stage of VIVO Pro Kabaddi just like him. “The most important thing is to stay fit. Only then can you focus on your practice and improve your game,” he concluded.