"My only aim is to see my team win the title this season as well," says Manjeet of Patna Pirates
On the 31st of May 2018, as the Patna Pirates repeatedly raised the paddle to procure the services of young Manjeet, an unknown entity back then in the Pro Kabaddi League, the youngster, by his own admission, emphasized on the fact that he was at the edge of the seat, waiting to see where his fate would place him.
Finally, as fate would have it, the management of the three-time champions Patna Pirates snapped up services of the youngster for a sum of ₹20.4 lakhs and smiled as they shook hands, sensing the exciting prospect of Manjeet's addition to the green-and-yellow brigade.
Fast forward close to five months later, Manjeet has stamped his authority as one of the best young all-rounders in the league and his skillful raiding has reaped praises from skipper Pardeep Narwal.
Playing the role of the third raider behind Pardeep and Deepak Narwal, Manjeet's top performance has earned him game time in all of Patna's games so far, highlighting his efficiency in his debut season of the Pro Kabaddi League.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, the budding all-rounder spoke about his introduction to the sport, his algorithm to success and what he has in store for the rest of the league.
"I have been playing kabaddi since I was in school but at the time of my schooling, I did not have too much interest. Over time, I gathered a lot more interest, which my uncle saw and helped me join an academy in my village Sisana, where I started playing consistently".
Hailing from Sisana, a village in Haryana, which is the hotbed for Indian kabaddi, it comes as no surprise that the lanky all-rounder is full of talent and claims he is lucky to have received support from his family.
"I am lucky to have received full support for pursuing my interest in the game. I am the only one in my village who plays the sport. In the beginning, there was a little issue but soon I started playing full-time".
With buckets of experience in the local circuits, Manjeet is playing his first pro-season and brushes off any mention of pressure on his entry into a team, which has three titles in its trophy cabinet.
"There is absolutely no pressure on me, right from the beginning of the season. In fact, I am very thankful to the Patna Pirates for giving me an opportunity to be a part of such a successful team."
For any youngster looking to make a mark in the league, the first few steps towards the league are of paramount importance and Manjeet elaborates on the tension that was playing a big role when his name came up for the auction.
"I was watching the auction live on TV and after a while switched to following the auction online. Once I was selected by the Pirates, my family members were thrilled and I was very happy as well."
One of the best all-rounders this season, Manjeet's fearless defending has seen him bring down the best of raiders with some quality ankle holds while using his height to get past a swarm of defenders while raiding. When quizzed about his preference between raiding and defending, Manjeet plays it down to enjoying the moment.
"Since I am an all-rounder, I am happy to do both. I was concentrating on raiding in the beginning stages but coach sir (Ram Mehar Singh) helped me with a few strategies that gave me the confidence to dive on the ankles and contribute on the defense front".
With ten tackle points from the last five games, Manjeet is certainly showing a lot of authority with his astute defense and picked up the 'Best Defender' award for his three-point effort against the Puneri Paltan. The youngster smiles as he runs through the emotions after picking up the award.
"Coach Sir told me that I played very well and he was proud that I got the award even though there are better defenders in the team than me. It felt really nice to get such appreciation".
Not only on the defense front, but Manjeet has also excelled on the raiding front as well and picked up his first Super-10 against the Bengaluru Bulls. Re-living his top effort on that day, Manjeet is happy with his performance.
"My first Super-10 was against the Bengaluru Bulls and I was very happy since it was my first ever big achievement in my career. I felt it was a very proud moment since I am the team's third raider and if I get more opportunities, I can do even better".
Coming into a team led by Pardeep Narwal, one of the most explosive raiders in the tournament, is bound to have a big impact on any player. For Manjeet, Pardeep Narwal's support has been key but more importantly, his friendship with the skipper is something close to his heart.
"He is a very fun person and very nice to hang around with. He goes about his business with great success and gives us the freedom to express ourselves as well."
Although he's making only his debut this season, Manjeet has already created quite a statement in the league but is quick to take a trip down the memory lane as he recollects his inspiration behind taking up the sport.
"My coach has gone a long way to teach me a lot of skills, which I am bringing out this season onto the mat. My inspiration is my uncle, who is a fantastic player and I dream to play like him one day."
For a man who is well-built and looks fit to trouble the best of opponents with his skills, Manjeet sheds the light on the importance of fitness in the sport, which can go a long way to shape a player's style of play.
"Fitness is of paramount importance in the sport of kabaddi. Our coach and trainers have laid extra emphasis on fitness in the camps. Even now, we hit the gym in the morning and train on the mat in the evenings to perform better on the mat".
During the off-season and when there are no tournaments, Manjeet represents the Indian army through the sport. When quizzed about his final aim for this season, the all-rounder says his focus is on doing well for the team and that he has no personal milestones.
"Personally I have no goals and whatever points I collect is to ensure that the team wins in the end. For me, I want to make my team win and see the Patna Pirates finish as champions this season as well."
A soft-spoken giant with a lot of confidence in his game, Manjeet's ankle holds and swift raids have pushed the Patna Pirates one step closer to defending their title and, in the process, has placed him in the league of some of the most exciting all-rounders in the history of the Pro Kabaddi League.