A World Cup winner, an Asian Games gold medallist and a recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri Award, raider Ajay Thakur has had a stellar career that continues to go from strength-to-strength even in his mid-30s.
Thakur has been part of the Indian kabaddi team for well over a decade and has played with or against the finest kabaddi players the nation has ever produced.
With a list of teammates so stellar, picking just seven players in his Dream Team was a huge ask for Thakur. So big, that he omitted himself from the team. Still, he managed to pick seven players that would make his Dream Team and it’s a team laced with Arjuna Awardees and World Champions.
Corners – Dharmaraj Cheralathan and Joginder Singh
For the Left Corner spot, Thakur chose Dabang Delhi captain Joginder Singh.
The veteran has been a mainstay in the Pro Kabaddi since the inaugural season and scored 173 tackle points in 82 matches in Pro Kabaddi League. The veteran has been captain of Dabang Delhi for the past two campaigns and ended their playoff drought, leading them to the Pro Kabaddi League final in Season 7.
On the right flank, the former Indian skipper picked Dharmaraj Cheralathan.
The Haryana Steelers skipper led Patna Pirates to the title in Season 4 and has been one of the most consistent defenders in league history. ‘Anna’, as he is fondly known, was Thakur’s teammate during his time with the Bengaluru Bulls. Cheralathan is one of only eight defenders with over 250 tackle points in Pro Kabaddi league history.
Covers – Pankaj Shirsat and Manjeet Chhillar
The Left Cover slot was a no-brainer, as Thakur picked friend and longtime teammate Manjeet Chhillar in that position.
Pro Kabaddi's all-time leading tackle point scorer with 339, Manjeet is a former league MVP and two-time winner of the league’s Best Defender Award. The veteran captained Thakur in the past and played under his tutelage at Tamil Thalaivas. A player worthy of kabaddi's Hall of Fame, if there ever was one.
For the Right Cover position, Thakur went for a player from the pre-Pro Kabaddi era of the sport in India, legend Pankaj Shirsat.
Shirsat, a police official like Thakur, played the majority of his career for Maharashtra and Air India and was the captain of the Indian team that won the 2007 World Cup. Shirsat, like Manjeet and Thakur, is a recipient of the Arjuna Award.
Raiders – Anup Kumar, Rakesh Kumar and Dinesh Kumar
For the three raiders in the team, Thakur picked current Puneri Paltan coach Anup Kumar, current Haryana Steelers coach Rakesh Kumar and former Pro Kabaddi star Dinesh Kumar.
Anup Kumar, the first bonafide star of the Pro Kabaddi league, led U Mumba to three straight finals in the first three seasons of the Pro Kabaddi league, leading them to the title in Season 2. Anup was the first player to be named the league’s MVP and is still among the top 10 scorers in Pro Kabaddi history.
Anup's great friend and a legend of the sport, Rakesh Kumar was Thakur's second pick in the raiding unit. Part of the Patna Pirates in the first two seasons and U Mumba in Season 3, Rakesh was one of the most complete players of his generation. Rakesh has won multiple gold medals with India at continental competitions and scored 260 points in the Pro Kabaddi in 55 matches.
The final player Ajay picked is raider Dinesh Kumar, another who played his best kabaddi before the inception of the Pro Kabaddi league.
A part of India's World Cup-winning squad from 2007, Dinesh was a quality raider who was also bestowed with the Arjuna Award following that win. Dinesh played eight matches in Season 2 of the Pro Kabaddi league for the Bengal Warriors, scoring 19 points.
Feature image courtesy: ProKabaddi.com