Meraj Sheykh: 10 things you need to know about him
One of the most successful and popular foreign players in the league, all rounder Meraj Sheykh will be crucial to Dabang Delhi's title challenge this season.
The Iranian is a prominent name even in the Indian Kabaddi circuit but here are a few lesser known facts about the Iranian:
1. He started playing at a young age: Meraj started playing the game at the age of 12. He describes Kabaddi as being hugely popular in his hometown. He believes the introduction to the game at a young age is something common between him and the Indian players.
2. Believes Kabaddi originated in Iran: Indians and Iranians have long contested the origins of the game. We, in India, strongly emphasise the game's Indian roots, Iranians are equally sure that the game was first played in Iran. Meraj is no different. He contends that the game originated in his hometown Sistan around 5000 years ago. An archaelogical site called Shahr-E-Sukteh in Sistan is believed to be the birthplace of the game.
3. Despite his strong claims about the game's origins, Meraj gives India full credit for popularising the game in modern times. He told ESPN, "India has popularised the game and has increased its outreach. The kind of interest the authorities have been taking in the sport is commendable and it would only help in the growth of the game that I love".
4. Meraj was the captain of the Iranian side that lost to India in the 2016 World Cup final. In a close game that did not end well for Iran, Meraj was easily his team's best player and a constant threat to India retaining their crown.
5. Meraj was not selected by any team in the first season's auction of the league. According to India.com, he remembers "watching the matches online from home".
6. In 2015 when he was given the captaincy of the Telugu Titans team, he became the first foreign player to captain a team in the PKL, highlighting his rapid rise in the league.
7. Meraj's captaincy and leadership was doubly impressive because of his lack of both Hindi and English skills. That has not been an impediment to his resolve, which was evident when he said, "I communicate through the sports language of playing as a team. We are confident of winning the title this time," when his captaincy was announced.
8. Meraj put in a powerful performance in Season 4 for his team and was the best foreign all-rounder with 75 points to his name.
9. At the beginning of this season, Meraj became one of the 7 players to be retained by their sides, when Dabang Delhi chose to retain him. This clearly shows how crucial Meraj is to the side.
10. Despite having played in the Asian Cup and World Cup, Meraj has been on record saying that the Pro Kabaddi League is the biggest tournament for Iranian players. He credits a lot of his own progress to exposure gained in the league. In 2016, he told Sportskeeda, "For me this is a great learning experience, I feel I am getting better every day, learning from the top Indian players and coaches. The Pro Kabaddi has been great for me in terms of the progress as a player."