Naveen Kumar made an incredible start to his Pro Kabaddi League career in 2018. The now 19-year-old entered the tournament as a rookie and it never looked like there were any nerves.
Competing for Dabang Delhi, the raider played 22 matches and scored 177 points with a successful raid ratio of over 50 percent. He features among the top-10 players for points, successful raids, raid points, Super 10s and his ability to withstand pressure can be gauged by the fact that he picked up 26 do-or-die raid points. He scored 15 points in a single outing, against Patna Pirates, albeit in a losing cause.
And that could well be the theme for his debut season. Despite an extraordinary season, Dabang Delhi couldn’t progress to the final in their first foray to the playoffs. They beat Bengal Warriors but lost to UP Yoddha even with Naveen picking 10 raid points from 13 attempts.
“It was my first season and I played amid senior players and coaches and they guided me on how to work on my footwork and strategy of how to go about things. Learned that it is a team game and have to work for the betterment of the team. To think about how to lead the team forward. I worked on giving my best in my first season and it worked,” he said in a telephonic conversation. “We reached the playoffs and the plan is to give a 100 percent once again. But this time come back with a trophy,” Naveen added, who was the youngest player of the season and the first player born in the 21st century to play in the league.
Going into the seventh season of the league, Delhi used their ‘final bid match’ card to retain the services of Ravinder Pahal and Chandran Ranjit while retaining Meraj Sheykh and Joginder Narwal. Naveen thinks the positive after the auction has been in retaining the core of the team and it is important in keeping the combinations.
“I am happy that I’ve been retained by Dabang Delhi and we have pretty much the same team. The balance is already there. Last season in the playoffs mistakes were made – in defence and in attack. The combination between the two wasn’t clicking in the latter stages. We’re trying to fix that and working hard to ensure they don’t repeat.”
“The team has essentially remained the same. It means the combination that we had earlier, it can be maintained. To solidify it further, the coach (Krishan Kumar Hooda) is working with us. Joginder (Singh Narwal), Ravinder (Pahal), Vishal Mane are all good players in the team. So the preparation is going strong and we look to start well,” he said positively.
For Naveen the target is simple and he likes to repeat it often: “The hope is to fare better than the last (season) and do better than the last.”