One of the most eagerly-awaited aspects of the fifth season of VIVO Pro Kabaddi, set to begin from July 28, is the entrance of the state of Haryana, who have been a conveyor belt of talent for the league over the years. With four new entrants in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Haryana set to add to the extravaganza this year, one of kabaddi’s traditional powerhouses finally have their own representative in the form of Haryana Steelers.

Mr Mustafa Ghouse, CEO of JSW Sport which owns the Steelers, spoke to the Indian Express in a recent interview and made it clear that it was Haryana’s romance with the game that made them pick the state as their league entrant. “We were very keen on Haryana because we thought the game is huge in that state,” he said.

However, he also believes that despite the state’s strong connection to the game, the new entrants will be playing catch up to the existing teams. “They (the eight old teams) got to retain some of the best players. Although, most of the teams had to reshuffle their squads and probably they would also start from scratch,” Mr Ghouse said.

The composition of the team at first glance suggests a strong defensive unit with the acquisition of Surender Nada for Rs 51.5 lakh and Mohit Chillar for Rs 46.5 lakh. When asked if they had made a conscious effort behind assembling a defensive side, Mr Ghouse said: “No, it was not. When Surender (Nada) became our third pick during the auctions, we thought that the rest of the squad had to be built around him. But, I believe the coaches have done a phenomenal job in picking the players.”

The revamped format will see 12 teams contest a minimum of 22 matches each with a total of 138 matches scheduled to take place over 13 weeks. Expanding on how longer leagues are more conducive to the development of sport, the JSW Sport CEO added: “Longer leagues are the way forward. It has to become commercially viable for all stakeholders. The potential of this business model can only be accurately analysed once we go deeper into the league.”