The ideal embodiment of a kabaddi legend, Anup Kumar is a two-time Asian Games gold medalist from 2010 and 2014. Him becoming an Arjuna Award recipient in 2012, a South Asian gold medalist and Kabaddi World Cup winner in 2016 are just a couple more of his innumerable achievements while representing India at the international level.

However, the advent of Pro Kabaddi in 2014 is what helped Anup Kumar soar to new heights and become a household name beyond the kabaddi landscape. 

Captaining U Mumba in the inaugural season of Pro Kabaddi, the Haryana-born raider went on to lead a relatively young side to unprecedented heights over the next few years. His efforts saw him receive a lot of plaudits besides earning him the ‘Captain Cool’ tag for his calm and composed demeanour on the mat. 

Illustrious Pro Kabaddi career

Practically synonymous with the league in PKL’s formative years, very few players had as much of a lasting impact as Anup Kumar. Whether it’s the nonchalance with which he notched bonus points, making it look uncannily easy or his ability to read the situation of a contest and play accordingly, very few players have shaped Pro Kabaddi ever since its inception like the kabaddi veteran. 

A constant and intelligent thinker of the game who is 10th on the all-time list for most raid points scored (527) in PKL history, Anup Kumar is the only player ever to captain a side in three consecutive finals having led U Mumba in the final of the first three editions of Pro Kabaddi. 

Signed for INR 10.20 lakh in the inaugural Pro Kabaddi auction, Anup Kumar instantly repaid the faith shown in him by winning the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of Season 1 courtesy 169 points in 16 matches. He also topped the chart for most raid points (155) in the first season and notched 10 Super 10s, which was the most by any player in the inaugural edition. 

Despite Anup’s mesmeric displays, U Mumba finished runners-up in Season 1, losing 24-35 in the final against Jaipur Pink Panthers. However, Season 2 witnessed U Mumba crowned PKL champions as they beat Manjeet Chhillar’s Bengaluru Bulls 36-30 in a closely fought final. 

Anup scored 81 points from 14 matches in the second season and was by far the best raider for U Mumba with 74 raid points, putting him fourth on the leaderboard for most raid points for Season 2. 

Even though he was not at his best in the following edition of PKL, he led U Mumba to another final in Season 3 only to fall agonizingly short against a dominant Patna Pirates team. The kabaddi legend had an underwhelming Season 3 by his lofty standards, finishing with 79 points in 13 matches but was still U Mumba’s second-best performing raider in that edition.

The next two seasons saw the Arjuna Awardee fail to take his team past the league stage of the competition. U Mumba finished fifth in Season 4, missing a playoff spot by a whisker before enduring another disappointing campaign in PKL 5 with none of their raiders featuring in the top 10 raiders list. 

Deemed past his prime, U Mumba decided to part ways with Anup Kumar ahead of Season 6 after a return of 135 points from 21 matches in PKL 5. The Season 6 auction saw Jaipur Pink Panthers securing his services for INR 30 lakh. 

However, recurrent ankle troubles meant Anup Kumar was far from his best and it was the last season that the legendary raider was seen tormenting opposition defenders on the mat as he decided to bring the curtain down on his illustrious Pro Kabaddi career with 596 points in 91 matches.

Grooming the next generation

After his retirement as a player, Anup has been seen donning the coach’s hat with Puneri Paltan in Pro Kabaddi. The ‘Bonus ka Badshah’ as Anup was fondly known due to the ease with which he bagged bonus points during his playing days, is now guiding and coaching youngsters who are keen to emulate his success.

Season 7, though, was a bit of baptism by fire as the rookie coach came to terms with the challenges, requirements and demands of his new role. Puneri Paltan did enjoy the odd good match in the seventh edition of PKL but they couldn’t find the consistency required to qualify for the business end of the season as they finished 10th with seven wins from 22 games. 

However, the upcoming season promises to be very different for the kabaddi legend as he heads into the new campaign with a better idea of what to expect. More mature and experienced as a coach now, Anup will be ready to kick on and spread his wings in his new role.

The recent kabaddi auction witnessed Puneri Paltan assemble a strong squad in defence and attack. The likes of Pankaj Mohite, Nitin Tomar and Rahul Chaudhari are certain to form a potent attacking force, while Baldev Singh and Hadi Tajik will shore up their defence. 

With a beautiful blend of youth and experience at his disposal ahead the new season as well as a more battle-hardened personality as a coach now, Anup Kumar will hope to lead Puneri Paltan to their first-ever PKL title and continue adding more chapters to his already storied Pro Kabaddi legacy.

Author: Kaustubh Potdar

Featured photo: PKL / Website