"I have been given a lot of freedom to express myself," says U Mumba's Surender Singh
In the fifth season of the VIVO Pro Kabaddi League, the lucrative league was decorated with yet another exciting dimension as the 'New Young Players', some of the best young and exciting prospects earned contracts with the twelve teams in the fray.
As a result, each team comprised of some of the best talents across the country in addition to the fledgling talents.
One youngster, who made an impressive mark of sorts in his debut season was 19-year old turbanator, Surender Singh.
A right cover defender who created waves with his authoritative defending in the local circuit, it was Anup Kumar and Shabeer Bapu who identified the youngster's talent and Surender essayed his role to good effect under the tutelage of the former U Mumba, one of his biggest heroes in the sport.
Yet, Surender, who idolizes Surjeet Singh on the defense front was hungry for more. With 58 points from 22 games, the 19-year old was amongst the points but committed far too many errors, which translated into a tough outcome for his side.
Determined to make amends in the sixth season, Surender claims that he made optimum use of technology back at home and also picked the brains of his coaches in the U Mumba camp ahead of the season in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
"In the last season, I played the game like a child would and made a lot of mistakes. When I went back home, I watched some matches and when I arrived for the camp this season, Fazel and the coaches helped me asses my errors and improved my game".
Hailing from Dehla, a village in the Una district of Himachal Pradesh, Surender recollects the spate of issues that he faced in the lead up to being selected to feature in the Pro Kabaddi League.
"My family has no connection to sports right from the start. When I started taking kabaddi seriously, my family wanted me to pursue my studies while adding that playing was only for some relief in the evenings. I was scolded a lot by my family but once I moved to the hostel and got selected for the PKL, it was all fine."
Even though Surender was constantly under the pump for looking at pursuing a career in the sport, U Mumba's 'paaji' claims that kabaddi was his first love and did not even think of trying his hand at any other sport.
"The first sport I ever played was kabaddi and I was attracted to it since it was a craze in my school, the Government Senior Secondary School in Dehla. We had some excellent players who were senior to me, which motivated me to try my hand at the game".
For a youngster who is only playing his second season in the league, Surender has already made some impressive tackles and smiles as he is quizzed on his inspiration to take up the game.
"Ajay Thakur Sir, who is from Himachal Pradesh as well is my inspiration. When I was staying in the SAI hostel in Bilaspur, he used to come there to take part in matches. Everyone respected him a lot and our coaches spoke very highly of him which then led me to believe that one day I wanted to get to his stage".
Yet, behind every successful player is not only an inspiration and a spark to light the flame but also a mentor or a coach, who can not only fine-tune the skills but also bring the best out of the player.
Surender believes that his success and the team's overall is a well-earned result of Iranian coach Gholamreza Mazandarani's 'Iranian' style of coaching.
"Coach Gholamreza brings in techniques from Iran and adds more emphasis on fitness. He tries to ensure that we strengthen the skill sets that we already have to fine tune it for a better show during the matches and all the credit for U Mumba's success goes to him".
One of the best young cover defenders in the competition, the league's rising standards brings out the inner raider in the defenders and vice-versa. Surender's case is no different, as he brings out his raiding talent in him.
"In the local circuit, I raid quite a few times as well. However, the PKL is a very big stage and since I am a defender, my job is to play the role and do what is best for the team."
With 50 tackle points from 18 games, Surender Singh has contributed in vital proportions to U Mumba's success this season and has formed a formidable combination with Fazel Athrachali, an alliance that has caused a nightmare for the best of raiders in the competition.
Apart from skipper Fazel, Surender's combination with his cover defence partner Rohit Rana has emerged as one of U Mumba's stronger suits this season and the 20-year old shed light on the algorithm behind the success.
"Fazel bhai and Rohit Rana bhai treat me like friends although I am a junior to them. There is never a moment where there is a seniority complex when I am with them. There are so many occasions when a lot of senior players demand that respect but here in U Mumba that feeling does not arise and hence I have a lot of freedom to forge a vital partnership with them."
U Mumba's stunning run this season has seen them create history as the fastest team to qualify for the playoffs stages in the history of the league, in just 18 matches and being a massive part of this success ride, Surender briefs U Mumba's aim for the rest of the season.
"Our final aim is to ensure that we reach the finals and then lift the title, for the second time in six seasons".
Only two seasons old in the league, Surender's famous dashes from the cover position have earned a label as his 'trademark move', a move that has earned him a spot in the list of the most exciting and prodigious defenders in Pro Kabaddi League history.