Patna Pirates are aiming for an unprecedented hat-trick of titles in Season 5 of VIVO Pro Kabaddi with skipper Pardeep Narwal leading from the front. While their attack has delivered on more occasions than not this year, numerous questions have surrounded their defence over the course of the season. Their leader in defence Vishal Mane – who hasn’t had the best of campaigns by his standards – spoke to earlier in the season and assessed his team’s campaign while also sharing his journey to the Pro Kabaddi stage.

“I live in a workers’ area in Mumbai where kabaddi is the main sport. I have grown up watching the sport but didn’t have an interest initially. In college, I thought that let’s give kabaddi a try and I got lucky with my first attempt and later got an opportunity in Dena Bank. Later I started playing for Mahindra & Mahindra,” Mane said.

“Looking at my performance I was appointed by the Central Railway where I played for four years. My game also improved. Then I got an opportunity to play in Pro Kabaddi. After coming in Pro Kabaddi my entire life changed and I never thought that my journey will become such a memorable one,” he added.

Mane admitted how he’ll always be indebted to Pro Kabaddi for propelling him to the international stage. “I think Pro kabaddi has changed my career in many ways. I got a chance to play for the Indian national team because of Pro Kabaddi,” he said.

On the challenges a modern kabaddi player faces as compared to stars of yesteryear, Mane commented: “Earlier we didn’t have a proper diet and there were other practices as well. So, I couldn’t get time for myself. After reaching this level I came to know how to maintain the diet, how to analyse the matches. So, if I had got such expertise earlier, then I could have reached another level.”

When asked about his team’s balance this season, Mane opined: “Except a few players, the rest of them are all new to the squad. The new players are a bit raw, which we are working on… I think the defence will get steady eventually... If the defence does make any mistakes, we have Pardeep and Monu Goyat to get us out of trouble. It’s a team game and everyone’s effort is required in the match.”

Mane also conceded that the Pirates are indeed a bit over-reliant on the exploits of Pardeep. “Yes, we are a bit over-dependent on Pardeep and why shouldn’t we be? He is one of the best raiders in the league. If he gets tackled in the first 10 raids, he will get points in the next one. The team is reliant 50 percent on just him. Monu is also supporting him as well as Vinod Kumar. We also have good bench strength. They are also coming strong,” he said.

He concluded the interview with what it’s like to be the elder statesman in defence besides offering some advice for youngsters. “There is pressure because I am the senior in defence. The last season I didn’t have that responsibility but it feels good because the players are also supporting me very well. I just tell them to play like this is your first game and everything has just started for you. I also tell them to practise more on skills. Practise more on the grip and timing because if you become perfect in these two things then no raider can get away. Timing is very important,” Mane said.