Defending champions Indian Railways, courtesy of a dominating 44-26 win over a star-studded Haryana side cruised into the semifinals of the 67th Senior National Kabaddi Championships taking place at the Poornima University in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Coming into the quarterfinal clash against Haryana on the back of two impressive wins in the group stages and a 45-35 win over Chandigarh in the Round of 16 clash, Railways were labelled as the favourites to qualify for the last four with big names such as skipper Pawan Sehrawat, Vikas Kandola, and corner duo of Ravinder Pahal and Dharmaraj Cheralathan among others in the squad.
Despite Haryana fielding a strong side comprising of Pardeep Narwal, Sandeep Narwal and the experienced Rajesh Narwal, they were subject to a raiding masterclass as Vikas Kandola (11 points) and Pawan Sehrawat (10) led from the offensive front while a High-5 for Ravinder Pahal guided the defending champions to a massive 18-point win in the end.
With the Indian Railways set to square off against hosts Rajasthan in the semifinal clash, Sportskeeda caught up with veteran corner defender Dharmaraj Cheralathan in an exclusive chat as he spoke about his team's chances of retaining the title, Pawan Sehrawat's role as captain of the side and a lot more.
The match was easy for us, we didn't have to put too much of an effort. We knew that everyone in the Haryana team plays well, but we were high on confidence. Being the defending champions, we knew that if we stick to our strengths we could win and that is exactly what happened on the mat.
The 44-year-old workhorse is the most experienced player in the side, having taken to the sport close to over two decades ago. An imperative part of the Indian Railways' defensive unit, Cheralathan stressed on his role in the side and how he spreads his knowledge of the game to the youngsters.
Everyone knows their role, but they are all youngsters. As the seniormost player in the side, my role is to control how we play to our strengths and execute our plans according to the situation. Guiding the youngsters and picking which player has to raid in a particular situation is also a role that I have been given by the coach.
In the last edition of the competition, Cheralathan led the side to the title and this year, the captaincy duties have been handed over to Pawan Sehrawat, who was quite efficient as the captain of the Bengaluru Bulls in the latter stages of PKL 7.
Cheralathan shed light on how this is an opportunity for Pawan to develop as a player and captain.
When it comes to controlling the team on the mat, I generally take up the responsibility because I am the senior player in the side. Pawan is a young and talented player, he will learn a lot from the captaincy tag, and it will help him develop.
Given Pawan Sehrawat's credentials and form over the past year, it comes as no surprise that he has been handed the lead raider's role in the side. Yet, Cheralathan claims that it is important for each player in the side, and not only Pawan, to make the most use of every opportunity and display a fearless brand of kabaddi.
The focus is not only on Pawan. Every player needs to understand that they have to do well for the team. If each one of the seven players performs well on the day, we will pick up a win. So for us, the focus is not on individual performances but the team as a whole.
With an impressive win against Haryana, Railways maintained their unbeaten run in the competition and will come up against hosts Rajasthan in the first semifinal. Cheralathan reckons that just like every other game, Railways will treat the semifinal as a new challenge and aim to tick all the boxes to book a spot in the final.
Every game is a new challenge. We are the defending champions and our ultimate goal is to win the gold medal. Sticking to the basics will be key, and if we play well as a team, we will undoubtedly make it to the final.
Cheralathan was also quick to quell any claims of "pressure" playing a role, despite sky-high expectations from the Railways team.
No pressure at all. We are playing freely, we know and understand each other well, and we are complementing each other on the mat. We will have our plans in place for the semifinals and executing them methodically will be the key for us to succeed.
As a final note, the star defender shared his two cents on how he feels this tournament will give a few chances for the youngsters to trigger bidding wars in the player auctions ahead of PKL 8.
The senior nationals this year has witnessed a lot of youngsters making a mark and we have all the PKL coaches watching the matches. Many of these young players certainly have a great chance of landing lucrative bids in PKL 8, and that is great for the rise of Indian kabaddi.