Kabaddi’s latest superstar who still loves the seist under the jaamun tree

It was just months after the first season of the Pro Kabaddi League in 2014 when Ajay Thakur was invited to be the main guest of the local junior tournament in Himachal Pradesh. Immediately after the games he would be surrounded by players asking for autographs and photos.

Now, seven years later, he remembers one of those young men who begged him for remembrance.

“Ajay bhaisaab,” he recites words spoken to him by an unknown teenager. ” Mujhe aap bohot acche player lagte ho, main fan hoon aapka. ‘ Then we took photos together.

“Fortunately, we are teammates now.”

That persistent young man is Dabang Delhi’s talisman striker Naveen Kumar Goyat – a skinny boy who weighed less than 45kg at the time but is now one of the brightest new stars in the sport.

The word ‘new’ may be used freely. The 21-year-old is currently playing in his third league season, but has already become the top of his team in 2018 – his debut season – as an 18-year-old. And how records began to break.

Naveen Kumar Goyat in action during the PKL match. (FILE)

He became the youngest to score a Super 10 (at least 10 attacking points in one match), and later became the youngest to score 500 points. And now he is currently in a huge series scoring 28 consecutive Super 10s.

Along the way, the nickname ‘Naveen Express’ was created (other options were ‘toofan’ and ‘Krish’ – after the Bollywood superhero movie).

But in the midst of the splendor and glamor of the league, the talented striker has not lost his fame and newly acquired fame.

“He is very down to earth. I have never seen him ever be struck by fame, ”says Thakur, Padma Shri. “I’ve seen so many people get into their heads, even if it’s for a few days. But that never happened to him. He is currently the No. 1 racer in India, but with his manners you just can’t feel it. “

Maybe that’s why Naveen isn’t the first name that comes to mind when talking about the big stars of PKL. There is no celebration of the frog jump at the end of a successful attack. No ‘Thigh 5’ after touching a hand in running. There is no accusatory finger pointing if the defense attorney refuses to accept being marked. He’s just going back to his half with points and getting ready to defend.

It doesn’t even bother to deal with the carefully groomed hair that has become a staple for successful athletes – and even your ordinary Joe. Instead, he prefers a messy rag.

“I like to be a little simple. I don’t feel encouraged to do a posh hairstyle and all that. I only do what I love, ”he says.

Amidst the new riches of the PKL universe, there is still a simple rural life he enjoys.

Simple joys

He is currently doing his job at a posh hotel in Bengaluru, where the league takes place in bubbles. But he has already worked out what he plans to do as soon as he gets home. Same thing he does every time.

“I have a few close friends coming. We swim well in a tube, climb jaamun trees and eat fruit, ”he says, laughing as he describes his routine.

“Phir ped ke neeche soo jaate hai. Gaon me mazza hi alag hai. ”

The story goes, ‘mazza’ was never actually kabaddi. In fact, sports were used only as a way out of the studio.

Growing up in the village of Bhaini Kungar in the Bhawani district of Haryana, he attended a private school but hated his school assignments.

“I was never interested in studying. I didn’t like going to school at all, ”he says.

“But in 2010, a nearby public school launched a sports program so that athletes would not have to stay in school for too long. A friend told me about it, so I tried and went inside. ”

The condition for leaving the classroom was to play kabaddi. It was a sport he had never played before, but this was a teaching he was willing to do. And then he slowly began to be inspired by the rewards offered.

“Some of the older players would go to tournaments and come back with prizes. 100, 200, 500 Rs. Naya lota milta tha kabhi, par inaam toh inaam hota hai. ”

It wasn’t until 2014, when he won the ‘Best Raider’ award at the National School Games, that he began to imagine a career in sports. The life he knew until then – napping under a tree, running through a family farm, keeping three buffaloes to climb, pull his tails, and then hide from his parents – all changed when he was voted ‘New Young Player’ (NYP) for Dabang Delhi 2018

In the spotlight

“All the youngsters are watching over their shoulders to make sure the coach is watching,” says Delhi coach Krishan Kumar Hood, winner of the Dronachary Award in the lifetime category. “They are trying to impress you by choosing them for the PKL. But Naveen was different. ”

Hooda talks about how an unknown young man became conspicuous during the trial simply because he remained muted. But the veteran coach knew he had found his next player.

“He would go on the field, do what he had to do and leave. Nothing fancy, no big celebrations. But you could see the speed at which he was moving and the hand touches in the run were perfect, ”he adds.

After Naveen succeeded, he became the first person from his village to become a professional athlete. When he returned home, it was a celebration, but his parents prepared another surprise for him.

“They watched PKL and saw that all the players were well built. At that time I weighed 70 kg, so they decided to double my food intake every day – says Naveen.

Naveen Kumar and Ajay Kumar Naveen Kumar (1st from left) with Ajay Kumar during his first days in Kabaddi. He was spotted with Ajay during the PKL match in the second photo.

“I had a liter of milk every day, they worked two liters. And they stuffed me with almonds. I couldn’t stand it. I did it for five days, and then I told my parents I couldn’t do it anymore. They agreed, but only after a few stomach problems. “

His father, a bus driver for Haryana Roadways, also received an incentive when the supervisor started giving him short routes instead of long-distance ones.

“The person in charge likes to watch my games and then talk about them with my dad,” Naveen says.

But when the league began, the young man could no longer float under the radar.

In his first season, he was the best for his team with 177 points. In 2019, he climbed to 303 – the third best of the season – and himself took Dabang Delhi to the finals, losing to the Bengal Warriors.

Currently, in his third term, he has scored 123 points and is the only three-digit player. And there’s the issue of 28 consecutive Super 10s.

Naveen Kumar Goyat Naveen Kumar Goyat during a raid in the PKL.

“Every attacker has a basic set of moves. It may be constantly entering from the right or left. Naveen is very unpredictable, ”said Raju Bhavsar, a gold medalist at the 1990 Asian Games.

“It’s hard to read him as a defender because he changes his strategy in the middle of an attack. He is a fast player – that speed in itself pulls him out of many attempts. But now he has become much more patient and mature. He knows when to take a step. ”

The young player in a team full of distinguished veterans – Thakur, Manjeet Chhillar, Sandeep Narwal, Joginder Narwal – is now equally tall.

There was a time when Naveen struggled to adjust to the lighting in the great league. Now he was well accustomed to having his eyes and cameras record his every move. That’s why, he says, he never bothered to get a picture ‘after’ with Thakur after all these years.

“Abhi photo lene ka zaroorat nahi. Bohot professional cameraman hai jo lete hai. ”

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