Interview with Jaipur Pink Panthers' Shabeer Bapu: "We are raring to go"
The star raider will look to propel the Jaipur Pink Panthers to new highs after strutting his stuff for U Mumba in the opening seasons.
The Jaipur Pink Panthers are being put through their paces at their pre-season training camp based in Chennai, and the camp seems a happy place to be in, at the moment. For new boy, Shabeer Bapu, there wasn’t much more that he could have asked for. The raider from Kerala was bought by Jaipur for Rs. 32.2 Lakhs and along with Rajesh Narwal and Jasvir Singh, will shoulder a large part of the burden in terms of the raiding department for Jaipur.
Q. Hi Shabeer, first, you come from Kerala where Kabaddi isn’t as big a sport as football or athletics. How did you start playing?
Initially, I was an athlete. But just as I was in high school, there was a Kabaddi team that was started in the school and I gave it a shot. Following that, I was given a scholarship to join the Sports Authority of India hostel in Chennai. That is when I really started taking Kabaddi seriously.
Q. What has the advent of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi done for the sport?
It is a huge step forward for the sport. Despite India winning gold medal after gold medal at various international events, nobody really knew anything about the sport, the players or anything. With this league, there are such huge crowds at every venue, it gives the players such a big incentive to perform well in each and every game.
Q. This is the first time so much money has been invested in the sport. What does that mean to you?
It is a big step in the right direction. To see that so many people are willing to spend this kind of money in the sport is a very heartening sign. Both at U Mumba and here at Jaipur, the owners are so enthusiastic and encouraging. Hopefully, they will keep continuing this sport and the players.
Q. Speaking about the owners, how have your interactions with Abhishek Bachchan been?
I have spoken with him a few times and he is a huge support, not just for me but for the entire team. He is incredibly enthusiastic about all sports and it would be fantastic if there were more people in India who loved sports as much as he does. This pre-season camp was entirely his doing, becuase of all the goodwill he had won during his time here with his football team(Chennaiyin FC).
Q. You have moved from U Mumba to Pink Panthers. Has anything changed for you, personally?
Obviously, there are new team-mates and a new team management. That means that there are new combinations that I will have to get used to. But apart from that, it is the same. I have to give it everything I have got, and help the team in whatever way I can. And I have been warmly welcomed into the group. That is a huge plus, because I never thought I would get integrated into the group so easily.
Q. Does it help that you have two other strong raiders in Jasvir Singh and Rajesh Narwal?
Even at U Mumba, there were two fantastic raiders in Anup Kumar and Rishank Devadiga. So, it is not too much different here. I will have to get accustomed to the style of Rajesh and Jasvir and the combinations that we are going to develop, but in the end, everyone is incredibly talented and that should not be an issue.
Q. Jaipur have not done too well in the last two seasons after winning in Season 1. Surely, you want to set that right?
Jaipur have always been a strong team. Whenever I played against them with U Mumba, it was never an easy match. In the last two seasons, they have been very unlucky with injuries. This time, we will prepare well and hopefully, luck will play its part too. You always need a little bit of luck in a tournament like this.
Q. How important has this pre-season training camp been?
It has been very good for the whole team. We have come down to Chennai, where the weather has been ideal for us to train. It has been ensured that we have the ideal environment to train, as the staff have taken care of everything else. We are sure that will be ready for our first match.
Q. Thank you, Shabeer. Wishing you the best of luck for Star Sports Pro Kabaddi Season 4.