Pro Kabaddi 2017 Season 5: Tamil Thalaivas' coach K. Baskaran says leading this young side has been "very fulfilling"
K. Baskaran made an instant splash when Pro Kabaddi made its debut as he guided the Jaipur Pink Panthers to the title in the inaugural edition. It was a new beginning back then for this age-old Indian sport, but since then it has grown bigger and better with every passing season.
Now in its fifth edition, the tournament has expanded to include 12 teams with coach Baskaran at the helm of one of the new sides, the Tamil Thalaivas. After having won gold in the Asian Games in Hiroshima in 1994, coach Baskaran had another proud moment last year when India won the inaugural Kabaddi World Cup in Ahmedabad, where he was a part of the coaching setup. This year, he's moved on to his next challenge as coach of the Thalaivas.
The Thalaivas haven't had the impact they'd have hoped for from their home leg thus far, having lost all three of the games that they've played. It has put them in a situation where every match is now a must-win if they are to harbour any chances of making the playoffs.
During the regular day off on Monday, ahead of the next set of matches in their home leg in Chennai, Sportskeeda caught up with coach Baskaran, where he spoke about his time with this young side thus far and also the tournament as a whole.
The Pro Kabaddi caravan has come to Tamil Nadu for the first time. What sort of impact do you expect for it to have on the game here?
What the league aims to do and all of the teams as well is to promote the sport of kabaddi. Already we have seen that it has become popular in other countries. So we want to take it to schools and colleges so that it is played more at these levels.
Tamil Nadu has a rich history of kabaddi. Over the last few years, the interest has maybe dropped a little. In the villages and rural parts though, the game continues to be played. We often see it as part of community events such as Thiruvizhas. We want youngsters to take up the sport and the entry of the Tamil Thalaivas from this season can hopefully revive that.
As a sport, since the requirements are not much, kabaddi also helps promote a healthy lifestyle among those who take it up since it involves plenty of movement and good agility. Also, from an entertainment point of view, Pro Kabaddi is something a family can get together and watch. It keeps all age groups engage, the format is exciting and takes place over a short time.
So, I definitely think that this is a huge boost for the state of Tamil Nadu to have a team from here.
What have been the major changes you have witnessed from the inaugural season to now?
The scoring rate, you might have noticed, has picked up. Initially, the first two seasons, we saw teams scoring 35-50 points combined in a game. Now, at times we can see even 80, 90 points being scored in a game overall.
Despite there being more strategies and greater planning, teams are also being more aggressive in their play.
The result is another aspect. Earlier, after the initial portion of the match, you could easily determine which team would go on to win the match. Now though, it is so unpredictable that until the last minute, it is not known which way the game is going. Every team has shown that it can make comebacks. This has elevated the interest levels of the audience.
You often speak about 'positioning/targeting' in your interactions with the media. Could you highlight why you place so much stress on this and its importance?
Positioning or stance is very, very important. It might seem very simple, but there are so many aspects to a player's body positioning whether it be in offence or defence. The way a person maintains his centre of gravity with the mat, the angle at which the body is positioned, how do you change it if the opposing raider/defender has made a change, the sliding movement, the eye contact; all these small things have a big impact on games.
Have you felt any difference in the players' performances in the three home matches thus far? Any effects of pressure?
Yes, I did feel a bit of difference in the performance of the players in the away matches and the three games here, thus far. It is marginal, but it's there. Some slight hesitation or delay in some movements which they would normally not do. Some late tackles.
But it's expected. Anytime you play in front of such a raucous home crowd, there is always pressure. With the level of expectations that the fans have, sometimes it can unnerve the players. However, it also acts as a tremendous boost and motivation for some, especially in situations when the team is down by 5 or 10 points.
We have discussed this during this break and will look to avoid those in the remaining games.
After your loss to U Mumba on Sunday, Mumba coach E. Bhaskaran praised the spirit of your team a lot despite the defeat. How has it been being in charge of such a young side?
Yes, we have a very young side. The average age of our squad is very low when compared to other teams. But, for me, the positive is that it provides a great platform for them to grow. That has been the objective from the very start from management and the team.
We wanted to take a young team, with few senior players to guide them, and mould them for the future. So far I feel that we've achieved 80% success with this group, the remaining 20% is for the results which sometimes go in your favour you and sometimes don't. We have played well and lost many close matches. The senior players like Ajay Thakur and Amit Hooda are also mentoring the youngsters well.
So, the results are secondary. What is important for us is whether the players are working hard, are they taking in the instructions, are they receptive and willing to grow. Is their attitude good, are they fighting and giving it their best? Is their work ethic good? In all these things, we have found this group to be excellent. If all these things are set, the results will follow automatically.
I can happily say, that I am fully satisfied thus far with this group of players and their efforts.
We have seen that you always shuffle the players and that change is something that you're not averse to. Are these changes made depending on the opposition or just the preparedness of the players?
It depends on the opposition. If I sometimes feel that we need an experienced player in a position, especially if he has played before against that opponent, then I would make that change. I will inform the youngster as to the reason behind the change as well.
It's something that I told all the players about even before the season started. They have complete faith in me, that whatever decisions I take are for the team's good.
Dong Geon Lee has become a huge fan favourite here with the home crowd as the stadium erupts every time he comes into play. What does he specifically bring to the side and also the Korean raiders in general?
The technical skill of the Korean players is very high. The kick, the toe touch, the hand touch - they are very good in the execution of these skills. What makes them very good is that when the defence relaxes for even a second, they see it and take advantage of it. They are very quick, both in speed as well as thinking. That's why they're very sharp at picking up Bonus Points as well.
As a young side, there are chances the players are disappointed when things don't go their way. How have you been able to keep the side's morale up?
I usually tell them to forget about the mistakes. Whether it was a small mistake or a big one, I tell them to not dwell on it and just move on. I tell them that there's no problem in making mistakes and not to get themselves down by thinking about it. Just motivate them to give their full effort every match.
I'm actually very proud that despite so many youngsters in our squad, so many new faces, we have been able to give good competition to almost every team. The team is always fighting and there is a good unity, being a very close-knit group. The players are also self-motivated. 95% of the time, there is only positive energy around this group.
In your next three games, you play the Telugu Titans, the UP Yoddha and Bengaluru Bulls - all teams competing for that third playoff spot. How beneficial is it that you get to take them on at this particular time in front of your home crowd?
It is definitely an advantage for us. As I've mentioned before, we're putting in the hard work, but sometimes we need some good fortune to go our way in getting these results.
But most definitely, it presents a good opportunity for us to overtake these teams, and hopefully, we can make the home advantage count.