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Kabaddi rivals cricket roar

- Loud home crowd cheers Bengal Warriors to first win

Netaji Indoor Stadium’s roar on Thursday evening was loud enough to reach the neighbouring Eden Gardens as Abhishek Bachchan’s presence and the Bengal Warriors’ maiden victory in the Pro Kabaddi League pumped up the volume.

The disappointment of Wednesday’s loss was quickly healed by the twin balms of Bolly and Bengal — the two firsts that gave the Calcutta leg of the league the firepower to compete with the IPL in terms of drama and decibels.

The 3,000-strong turnout in the indoor arena almost replicated the atmosphere of a 70,000-strong Eden as the spectators cheered every point raised by the home team in the manner of partisan crowd of cricket fans next door.

“It feels like I am watching a Kolkata Knight Riders match. We have continuously been chanting ‘Jeetega bhai jeetega... Bengal jeetega’ with the rest of the crowd and I am sure that has motivated our boys,” said Deepak Agarwal, 28, who came from Howrah with siblings Naresh, 24, and Ravi, 30.

If Junior B was the major attraction during the first game featuring his franchise Jaipur Pink Panthers, the home team’s resurgence in the second match of the evening was the cherry on the kabaddi cake.

Bengal Warriors, partnered by The Telegraph, edged past Dabang Delhi 42-40 in a nail-biting finish that saw the home hero snatch a last-second point to seal the deal, a la a last-ball six.

In the crowd sporting a shirt with the initials “RF” for Roger Federer was Sunita Sigita, a regular at Wimbledon since 2008. “Abhiskek turning up here is great, just as Amitabh, Aamir (Khan), Shah Rukh (Khan) and Sachin (Tendulkar” did in Mumbai. It’s commendable what they are doing for kabaddi,” said Sunita, who was there with 18-year-old nephew Mayank.

Thursday’s was a double header with the Pink Panthers facing the Telugu Titans in the first match at 8pm, followed by Bengal against Delhi at 9pm. The crowd had started trickling in around 6.30pm and by the time the first raid started, Netaji Indoor Stadium had at least 1,000 more spectators than on Pro Kabaddi’s Calcutta debut the previous evening.

Childhood friends and colleagues Imon and Monalisa, both 26, had purchased tickets online and taken their seats by 7pm to watch the “Bachchan couple”. “We have done our homework on Bengal Warriors and want them to win. We are also both die-hard fans of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and are hoping to see her today,” said Imon, a resident of Shibpur.

The missus, of course, gave the game a miss. “Maybe she will come for Jaipur’s next match on Saturday,” Monalisa said later.

While Abhishek’s excitement seemed tame in comparison to SRK’s in a packed Eden, he did leap out of his seat every time Jaipur earned a point. With him rose the rest of the star-struck arena. Seated next to Usha Uthup in his team’s pink and blue jersey, Junior B ran to the mat to hug his players after Jaipur’s victory.

Cameras went click-click as he walked around the mat and waved at those in the galleries. A 10-minute break later, it was time for the Warriors to do battle against Delhi.

The stands came alive when the Warriors jogged in, eager for a comeback after two heavy defeats on the trot. At first, it looked like a repeat when Dabang Delhi took the early lead. But home captain Nilesh Sinde and his boys soon started to show some agility and win a few points.

“This is what we came for. The Bengal players are giving back as good as they are getting,” said Cognizant employee Arnab Nandi, 30, accompanied by wife Neepa.

A “Hu Ha! Hu Ha!” chant echoed through the hall as another point was won. “I hope this turns the tide for us. If the Warriors win their remaining two matches in the city, it will be damage-control enough and they can then set their sights on a semi-final berth,” hoped Mayank Agarwal, a first-year college student who was there with friends Mohit Sureka and Rohit.

‘why kabaddi?’ my answer: ‘why not?’

Abhishek Bachchan was in Calcutta on Thursday to cheer on his team Jaipur Pink Panthers in their Pro Kabaddi League match against Telugu Titans. Before the match, Metro spoke to Bachchan Jr.

The Calcutta connection

I have been coming here since I was a child. My first ever memory of Calcutta was in the early ’80s and going to spend the day at Manikda’s (Satyajit Ray) house… he was very close to both mom (Jaya) and dad (Amitabh). He was unwell and aged then. He had this amazing library and I remember he used to play chess. That memory is still very vivid.
Since then, I have been coming here all the time.

Now, of course, to come with my team feels all the more special. I am here with my team to promote our sport… an Indian sport… kabaddi. It just feels great.

The kabaddi connection

I know the obvious question is ‘Why kabaddi?’ but my answer is: ‘Why not?’ Here I had an opportunity to do something for the sport, which could prove to be a game-changer. The greatest drawing factor me was that this is a sport indigenous to India. I am a huge fan of football, hockey and cricket, but they are all inherited from the British. Kabaddi is over 3,000 years old and has its origins rooted in The Mahabharat… Abhimanyu and the chakravyuh. It’s a sport that hasn’t got its due, it’s always been neglected.

It’s been almost a week now that the league is on and I feel that there has already been a sea change in the way people are perceiving kabaddi. It’s made a huge difference to the morale of the players… the focus and the recognition. They are such simple people and such wonderful athletes… they just want their passion for the game to be recognised.

Personally, I have played kabaddi as a child. I was first taught the game by my dad (smiles). And I have done a lot of research on kabaddi before buying the team.

The Bong connection

I think my love for sweets, definitely (is a Bengali trait). I have a sweet tooth… which I call my sweet mouth (smiles). Also, like Bengalis, I am passionate, particularly in my passion for sport. When you come to Calcutta, be it cricket or football and now we hope kabaddi, Bengalis are always passionate about their sport. I would like to believe that I have inherited that from my mother.

As told to Priyanka Roy