'The zone division is unbalanced': Gujarat Fortunegiants vice-captain Fazel Atrachali
Among the foreign players who have created quite a stir in the Pro Kabaddi League since its inception is Fazel Atrachali. The Iranian, who has been a former captain of his national team, has dazzled kabaddi aficionados with his spectacular defending skills.
His immense talent is further validated by the fact that he is the first foreign player to complete 100 tackle points in the PKL. It’s thus not a surprise that he has been a part of not just one title-winning team but two - U Mumba in Season 2 and Patna Pirates in Season 4.
This season, he has been roped in by the newly formed Gujarat Fortunegiants, one of the four debutants in Season 5. The west Indian franchise has been highly impressive and has led the Zone A standings for much of the season until being recently dethroned by the Haryana Steelers in the ongoing Delhi leg.
Sportskeeda caught up with the left corner defender prior to the Gujarat Fortunegiants’ interzonal Delhi clash with the Tamil Thalaivas. In an exclusive chat, the Iranian bared his heart about his early playing days in Iran, his PKL experience, his thoughts about his current team and much more.
Here are a few excerpts:
What are your thoughts on the PKL format and the zone division?
This is the first time the competition has been divided into two different zones but I think our group is harder. We played with teams from that group and we won 60-70% of those matches like we beat Telugu Titans and Bengaluru Bulls.
In our group, all teams are hard. For example, Haryana is a very good team. U Mumba is another very good team and they are also former champions. In this group, Gujarat, Haryana, Mumbai, Jaipur, Pune are fighting for play-offs. In the other group, it is a bit easier. Bengal is good and Patna too.
So, the division is slightly unbalanced.
How and why is kabaddi so popular in Iran?
10 years ago, kabaddi was not much popular in Iran because people did not know what kabaddi is except for maybe 10-20% of the population. Now it is much better.
Now we have professional leagues but of course they are definitely not the same as Pro Kabaddi League here in India. Five or six years ago, only maybe four cities played well in the professional league. But now 16 teams compete. Out of them 8 to 10 are very good.
Now more people play and the game has spread.
So, do you think because Iran is doing well in Asian Games and so many Iranian stars are playing in the PKL, the sport has gained more popularity in your country?
There was television coverage of kabaddi in the last Asian Games and that changed everything. Previously people only heard the name, ‘kabaddi.’ But if they don’t get to see it, they won’t know what exactly the game is all about.
Kabaddi is very interesting. Lots of fighting, tackles, jumping….it is very exciting. The television coverage has brought more people into this sport.
What is the difference between Indian kabaddi and Iranian kabaddi?
In India, they have a lot of good raiders. In Iran, we have more good defenders.
For example, one great raider is Pardeep Narwal. You will never know how to tackle him. He can do ‘dubki’, jumping. There is a surprise element involved which makes it difficult to tackle him.
In Iran it is different. In one match, I can tackle and get about 15 points but in India, I can score maybe 2 points in one match. If I play very well, I can probably score five or six points.
So, it is harder to play in India.
Why is it that there are more good defenders from Iran?
I think the reason why we have good defenders from Iran is because 70% of the players were wrestlers before becoming kabaddi players. 16-17 years ago, while I was a kid, I too was a wrestler. In wrestling, you have ankle hold, thigh hold. It is very similar to the skills one needs to be a good defender in kabaddi.
That is why, it makes it easier for wrestlers to quickly switch to kabaddi.
How did you start your journey in kabaddi? Who was your inspiration?
I started playing in my village of Muhamadabad in Iran. About two decades ago, the kabaddi federation came into existence. My village has a lot of good wrestling players. They came to my village to scout some good wrestlers who can play kabaddi. As a kid, I always liked fighting and contact sports. I never liked a sport with ball like volleyball, football etc.
My present coach was a player then. I wanted to be like him. That’s why I first became a wrestler and turned to kabaddi because I saw how interesting it is.
In my family, my cousin, who is six years older to me, started out as a wrestler and then became a kabaddi player. He used to play kabaddi every day and that’s how I too got introduced to the sport.
How do you like it in India? What’s the best thing you like in this country?
In India, I like people the most. They are friendly. Here, when I go to a city, people come and take photos and say, “Hello Fazel.”
In Iran, it is not like this for me because you are not on television every day there. People from my city of course know me but I am not known all over the country.
That’s why, whenever I go back to Iran, I always tell them that people in India are good.
I don’t like the food here though because it is very spicy.
So, how do you communicate with team members? Are you comfortable with Hindi?
I came here in Season 2. That time I had language problems. I can now speak in Hindi ‘thoda thoda’. Actually, Hindi and Iranian language are a bit similar. So I have learned quite a lot. When people are talking, I understand 80% of the conversation although I still can’t speak very well.
I talk with my teammates in a mixture of English and Hindi. For example, if I want them to come near me during a tackle, I tell them, “Nazdeek, nazdeek.”
How do you think Gujarat is performing this season? What do you think about their title-winning chances?
We are 90% going to the play-offs. Our not going there can only happen if we lose all our remaining matches.
As a team, Gujarat is looking good. With this being the first season for us, some things are good and some other things are not so good. Take the case of U Mumba. They are here right from the first season, so they know everything about every player in their team.
But this is the first season for Gujarat, so we need a bit of time to know our drawbacks.
I think Gujarat can go to the final and even be champions. I also believe the team can be even better next season with more experience in Pro Kabaddi.
Who do you think is a better pairing - you and Abozar or Mohit and Surender?
Of course, I have to say Fazel and Abozar. But Mohit and I are also good. We played together for U Mumba.