Coming all the way from Iran, Meraj Sheykh is counted as one of the finest kabaddi players ever born on the planet. He made a cracking debut in the second season of the Pro Kabaddi League with Telugu Titans.
Meraj took interest in the sport back when he was a child and after doing professional wrestling for ten long years, he decided to enter into the kabaddi universe.
Well-known for his terrific scorpion kicks and frog jumps, Meraj became the first foreign player to ever wear the captain's armband, in PKL 2015, for Telugu Titans. In seasons 2 and 3 combined, he scored a total of 86 points in 29 matches.
Dabang Delhi hit the jackpot after successfully getting Meraj Sheykh for the fourth edition of the league. With a plethora of intricate skills, both in offence and defence, Meraj never failed to stun the fans and pundits all across the globe.
Having represented Iran internationally on many occasions, he is a consistent all-round performer. He excelled in the fourth season as well with 75 points up his alley, in just 14 matches.
Continuing the fifth season from Dabang Delhi, Meraj thrived and went on to become the most successful all-rounder of PKL 2017.
Season 5 was Sheykh’s most successful in terms of points return. He scored 104 overall points and also became the only player to score 50 tackle points, that too in just a single season.
With brilliant reflexes and agility, Sheykh plays with a calm and collected mind. Dabang Delhi, with Meraj's excellent leadership, qualified for the playoffs for the first time in the history of PKL, where he scored 97 points in 19 matches.
Making a clever decision, Delhi's management retained Sheykh prior the auctions for season 7, which took place on the 8th and 9th of April. Much is expected from him in the approaching season, given his importance in Delhi's squad.
With just a day left before the tournament kicks off, Sportskeeda got into an exclusive conversation with Meraj Sheykh as the top-class all-rounder talked about Delhi's preparations, his personal targets for PKL 2019 and much more:
Last season was fantastic for Dabang Delhi. Any specific strategy/strategies you guys are going to carry to the upcoming season of PKL?
Yes, PKL Season 6 was our best run so far as Dabang Delhi finished in the playoffs. Last year, we outperformed ourselves and excelled in most facets of the game.
Our captain Joginder Narwal led from the front and was largely instrumental in our impressive run last year. Our preparations for the league are going well under the guidance of Dabang Delhi Chief Coach Krishan Kumar Hooda.
This year, our primary focus has been on fitness and our expert trainer Sandesh has been working with each player, providing them with customized training regimes that cater to their respective playing positions and strengths.
We started our training camp in Haryana on 5th June 2019 and we are already seeing a big improvement in fitness and skills. I’m confident that with this new squad, we will go a step ahead and get closer to the title.
Now that you have a new squad for season 7, which player are you most excited to play next to?
This year at the auctions, we retained the core team that played last season. Joginder Narwal, Ravinder Pahal, and Vishal Mane led the defensive unit last year, along with the agile offensive attack helmed by Naveen Goyat and Chandran Ranjit.
There have been some strong additions in the team, which help us strengthen the squad and make our team a dynamic mix of young and experienced players.
With an outstanding debut last year, Naveen Kumar, the youngest player in Pro Kabaddi, is already producing some incredible stats.
His passion for the sport and eagerness towards improvement makes him an important part of our team. I am particularly excited to share the mat with all young and emerging players and help them in any way I can.
Which team do you think can pose a threat to Dabang Delhi for the upcoming season?
All teams are looking good on paper and we respect the strengths and capabilities of every side. In Pro Kabaddi League, any match can change on its head within a minute. We will treat every game as a knockout and play to the best of our abilities. At the outset, we are only concerned about our performance and will play to our strengths on all match days.
What’s the biggest weakness of the team according to you (if any)?
There are no weaknesses as such in the new Dabang Delhi squad. We have a very well-balanced team this year with robust bench strength, which should help in producing a compelling performance across the length of this tournament.
What mistakes from the previous season are you guys are mostly focusing on improving?
I wouldn’t call them ‘mistakes’ because these experiences serve as learning opportunities not just for us, but for every team that participates in PKL. What truly matters is how we use these opportunities to benefit our respective teams. Dabang Delhi Kabaddi Club has always analyzed these situations to understand how we as could turn this around in the favor of our team.
Under the straight-shooting mentorship and guidance of Coach Krishan Kumar Hooda, I am positive that we will leave no stones unturned in preparing for yet another successful performance in the upcoming season.
Last season, we saw you raiding quite a bit. Can this trend follow or will we see you contribute on the defensive front more for the upcoming season?
I’ll be focusing on both, raiding and defending. I’m an all-rounder and I’ll put my best foot forward, whenever and wherever the team needs me to in the match.
What are your personal targets for this season?
There are no personal targets. My only aim this year is to win the Pro Kabaddi League trophy for Dabang Delhi KC. This season, we will come harder than before and with this well-balanced squad of young and experienced players, we plan to go all the way this year.
How important is it according to you, that Dabang Delhi has retained its core for the season?
Last year was the best season for Dabang Delhi KC yet, where we finished in the top 4 for the first time. We also had a great home leg where we won 5 out of 6 matches. Besides bringing new, capable players on board, the team management and coach Krishan Kumar Hooda have shown deep faith by retaining the core team.
Personally, it’s my fourth season with Dabang Delhi Kabaddi Club and it feels like home, mainly because of the bond I share with my teammates who are no less than family. We train together, win together, fail together and learn together – it is an incredible journey that has made me cognizant of each player’s habits and preferences!
We are a tightly knit unit that fires as one. This camaraderie helps bolster our squad and hold us in good stead, going into this long tournament. Not to mention, our core set-up is made up of some very experienced and talented players, who know what it takes to win pressure matches and can hold their own against champion sides.