"Confident that we will win the trophy this time" - Tamil Thalaivas skipper Sagar bullish about Pro Kabaddi 2023 chances [Exclusive]

Sagar Rathee will lead the Tamil Thalaivas again in Pro Kabaddi 2023 (Picture Credits: Instagram/Sagar Rathee).
Sagar Rathee will lead the Tamil Thalaivas again in Pro Kabaddi 2023 (Picture Credits: Instagram/Sagar Rathee).

Pro Kabaddi 2022 was a memorable one for Sagar Rathee, who led the Tamil Thalaivas' charge as they dashed into the playoffs for the first time since their entry into the competition in 2017.

He was not only the team's star performer but was also tasked with leading a side that had to fill a massive Pawan Sehrawat-sized hole, with the star raider and skipper sidelined after picking up an injury in the very first game.

Bagging a total of 53 points with a tackle strike rate of 60 percent, the right-corner defender was instrumental in the Thalaivas finishing with 66 points as they turned things around in incredible fashion.

A fifth-place finish saw them bolt into the eliminators and then the semifinals as well where they went down to Puneri Paltan. Having often been the cellar-dwellers of the points table though, this was easily the best campaign that the Thalaivas enjoyed in the tournament's history.

A bullish and confident Sagar, who will assume the reins of captaincy again in Pro Kabaddi 2023, which commences on Saturday, December 2, talked up his team's chances of lifting the title in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda on the sidelines of the team's pre-season camp in Bengaluru.

And it began with gratitude towards the think-tank for having retained him for the new season.

"I am very thankful to the team for the faith they have shown in me. For whatever confidence they have shown in me and retained me, I will live up to it. I have full confidence that we will make the playoffs comfortably and we’ll try our best for the trophy," says Sagar.

"We have a lot of options this time" - Tamil Thalaivas skipper Sagar ahead of Pro Kabaddi 2023

Having won a solitary game out of six in the first leg of the Pro Kabaddi 2022, seemed as if the same old story was about to repeat with the Tamil Thalaivas. Having broken the bank to acquire Sehrawat's services, their hopes came crashing down when he was stretchered off in their tournament opener against the Gujarat Giants.

Sagar believes that their team wears a more balanced look for Pro Kabaddi 2023 and doesn't have an air of over-dependence on a single player alone, talking up the New Young Players in the side.

"Last time the team was more dependent on Pawan. This time, our NYP players and the ones we picked up at the auction, they’re all playing similarly well. It’s not like this player will play for sure and if he doesn’t, it’s not that we don’t have options. We have a lot of options this time. If someone isn’t playing, we can replace him with a young lad. We have a lot of good NYPs so that has changed this time," says the skipper.

The team is focusing on keeping things as simple as they can too.

"Whatever skills we showed in the previous seasons we are trying to sharpen those and are working on that alone," adds Sagar.

"He has improved our fitness a lot" - Sagar on coach Ashan Kumar's prime focus for Pro Kabaddi 2023

It is worth noting that the Tamil Thalaivas' turnaround last year coincided with the arrival of Ashan Kumar, the head coach of the Indian national team, in the same capacity after J Udayakumar resigned midway.

This time around, Ashan is in charge of the team from the very beginning with fitness being the primary focal point as Sagar mentions.

"This time our coach has focused more on fitness. He has improved our fitness a lot and we are working on it continuously. If we aren’t fit, then how will we play? To avoid injuries, our coach has emphasized more on fitness," says Sagar.

There is one happy conundrum that Ashan and the Thalaivas have to sort through, given the presence of two star right corner defenders in Sagar and Iran's Amirhossein Bastami.

Has the captain spoken to the coach regarding the highly likely possibility of just one of him and Bastami starting a game though?

"No, there has been no discussion about this," says Sagar. "Both of us have this confidence, me and Bastami. And whoever plays, whoever the team needs at any point (we will step in). It’s just that our team needs to win."

Reiterating quite often that his focus is on the team's success alone, Sagar declared that he has no particular milestone he wishes to achieve. He also reckoned that last year's runners-up Puneri Paltan are perhaps the one team that can match the Tamil Thalaivas and challenge them.

The confidence in his words hits a crescendo when asked about his team's chances at Pro Kabaddi 2023.

"We are confident that we will win the trophy this time," signs off Sagar.

Given the balanced look that the Tamil Thalaivas wear, they certainly have a valid reason to believe that they can go the distance at Pro Kabaddi 2023. They begin their campaign against Dabang Delhi KC on Sunday, December 3, at the Arena by Transstadia in Ahmedabad.

Can the Tamil Thalaivas clinch their maiden title at Pro Kabaddi 2023? Have your say in the comments section below!

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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