The Maharashtra kabaddi team were a proud lot on Friday. They managed to beat the experienced Services in the final of the Senior National Kabaddi Championship and win the title after a long wait of 11 years. They had a number of star performers like do-or-die specialist Tushar Patil, corner defender Girish Maruti Ernak and even the lesser known Rituraj Korvi. However, their stand out performer, without doubt, was skipper Rishank Devadiga.

Captaining the Maharashtra side in the Senior Nationals for the first time, Devadiga led by example and scored points at crucial junctures to win his side the title. In an interview with The Asian Age, Devadiga said it was his dream to play in the finals of the tournament and the team was more determined than ever to make it this time after missing out in the past.

“I have been representing Maharashtra for the past 5-6 years and it was always my dream to play in the final. But unfortunately, we never made it past the quarterfinals,” said Devadiga. “This year, though, we were more determined than ever to play the final. The positive energy set in from the time we got together for the eight-day preparatory camp in Satara. The team stayed united and positive throughout, which made a difference this time.”

Though Rishank had an outstanding tournament over all, perhaps his greatest feat was when he won his team the semi-final against Karnataka in the last raid. “It was a great match,” recollected the Maharashtra captain. “My native place is in Karnataka but I was born in Mumbai and have been playing for Maharashtra. I did my best for my team, as I do in any other match. We had decided before the tournament that I will go for do-or-die raids and it came off well.”

However, even after that close victory, Devadiga was well aware that the team wasn’t out of the woods yet as they faced defending champions Services in the final match. He revealed how they had a clear plan in place which helped them overcome the star-studded Services outfit.

“Services had a strong team and had been in the final for the past three years. But we had a clear plan and strategy from the outset. I had the belief that I will score points whenever necessary. We didn’t want to slow the pace and tried to score as many we can. We defended well too. We were leading from the start which helped us as we didn’t feel pressure at any point in the game,” he said.

With the Senior National Kabaddi Championship in the bag, the young raider now has his sights set on the Asian Games, where he hoped he would find a place in the Indian team based on his recent exploits. “I have played in the Beach Asian Games but my target is to play for India in the Asian Games this year. I have proved my fitness and performed consistently in every kabaddi event, including in this tournament. I am now hoping for an entry into the Indian team,” Devadiga said.