Trailing Bengal Warriors by five points and with just two minutes left on the clock, Tamil Thalaivas were in dire need of a big raid to turn the tide against the eventual champions.
After strutting across the mat a couple of times, raider Rahul Chaudhari finally decided to risk it all, luring Left Corner Rinku Narwal by dangling his feet close to the defender. It was an opportunity too good to pass up for the Bengal Warriors ace and he pounced on the raider’s feet to try and trip him.
Chaudhari escaped Rinku’s clutches and was seemingly on his way to picking up multiple points. However, just before he could get across the midline, veteran Cover Jeeva Kumar dashed Chaudhari on to the floor before another defender joined in to pin the raider and earn a point for their side.
It was a rather easy assist for Jeeva, who would have expected a more resolute struggle from Chaudhari, but it wasn’t to be. Resigned, frustrated and beaten, Chaudhari jogged to the bench for the final time in Season 7, and probably the final time in a Tamil Thalaivas jersey, as he sat and observed from the sideline while Bengal Warriors ran down the clock to register a four-point victory, their 14th of the season.
Thus ended a disastrous campaign for the Tamil Thalaivas, who lost coach Edachery Bhaskaran to retirement and then captain Ajay Thakur to injury through the season, also for Rahul Chaudhari, who seems to have lost his spark for well over a couple of years.
The beginning of the slump for Rahul Chaudhari
Make no mistake, Chaudhari remains one of the most recognisable faces in the sport.
His 1000 points, his two Best Raider Awards and his countless heroics for Telugu Titans made him a household name for half the decade. Chaudhari was the face of the Pro Kabaddi league. He earned the moniker of ‘The Poster Boy of Kabaddi’ because he carried himself with a swagger and an arrogance one seldom sees in a kabaddi player.
But all that is seemingly gone. For the past two seasons, Chaudhari has been a below-par raider. Sure, he continues to break records with seemingly every point he scores, but those points are few and far between, and Chaudhari no longer evokes the fear he once did.
In Season 6, Chaudhari scored just 159 raid points, the 12th-highest tally in the league. Before that, the raider had never finished outside the top six. He raided heavily, like he always has, and delivered a few decent performances, but nowhere close to the level that the world had come to expect of Chaudhari.
The following year, Telugu Titans, the team Rahul had spent his entire Pro Kabaddi tenure with, decided to part ways with the superstar, opting to sign Season 6 sensation Siddharth Desai for a whopping 1.45 crores instead. Chaudhari, though, was still a man in demand.
Rahul Chaudhari's inglorious capitulation
Teams bid aggressively for the raider and it was Tamil Thalaivas who emerged victorious in his pursuit, signing him for 94 lakhs and pairing him with veteran superstar Ajay Thakur, a dream duo for many.
As luck would have it, Chaudhari made his Tamil Thalaivas debut against his former side and outshone Desai by scoring a Super 10 and leading his new side to 39-26 victory. Maybe that’s what he needed; a change in scenery to get rid of the monotonous job of carrying Telugu Titans and being inevitably disappointed when their luck ran out.
At Tamil Thalaivas, he had Manjeet Chhillar, Mohit Chhillar and Ran Singh to man the defence, and in the attack, he had the legendary Ajay Thakur alongside him. Maybe that would spur him on to be the raider he once was. However, things went south quickly for Chaudhari and the Chennai-based outfit.
Chaudhari and Thakur struggled in the subsequent matches and the defence couldn’t hold up either. Bhaskaran resigned soon after as the Thalaivas' prolonged struggles continued to drag. New coach Udaya Kumar let rookie Ajith takeover the lead raider’s role alongside Chaudhari in Thakur’s absence and the youngster was perhaps the only silver lining in an otherwise dumpster fire of a season for the Thalaivas.
The results improved slightly but there was no end in sight for Rahul’s tumultuous season. Often on the bench, frustrated and with a look of helplessness on his face, the raider finished the season with just 130 points. He averaged a mere 5.91 raid points per game, had a strike rate of just 40, scored just two Super 10s and managed zero Super Tackles, all career lows.
End of the road for Rahul Chaudhari
Retaining Chaudhari will cost the Thalaivas a fortune and it’s likely they’ll part ways with the veteran raider for the upcoming season. Once revered and idolised, Chaudhari’s form had been slumping for a couple of seasons before finally capitulating in Season 7.
He no longer has the explosiveness to trouble defenders, nor the strength and speed to bulldoze his way through defenders. It’s a difficult admission, but Chaudhari’s days as an elite raider are behind him. His experience and marketability could be a valuable asset for any team that wishes to sign him, however, his days as a world-class raider that could lead his side to victory are long gone.
Images courtesy: ProKabaddi.com
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