Indian sport's most famous 'Mr. Dependable' is Rahul Dravid but in kabaddi, that title belongs, undoubtedly, to Pardeep Narwal.
In his third season with Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) defending champions Patna Pirates, Pardeep has been instrumental in their two consecutive title-winning runs. He's looking to make it a hat-trick of titles and going by his form so far this season, it's hard to argue against his chances. Patna currently boast the most impressive stats -- winning four of the seven matches they've played, tying twice and losing once. Pardeep has scored 68 raid points with a Super 10 -- 10 raid points per game -- in almost every match.
This season, Pardeep has also introduced a new move, to accompany his famous dubki (dive) -- the 'back-hop', in which raiders, after being held to their feet by the defenders of the opposing team, hop backwards to the mid-line.
Add to that, his past record - becoming the PKL's Most Valuable Player at the age of 19, the youngest in the history of the league, and scoring 131 raid points in Season 4, the season's second-highest tally -- and it's no surprise that he became one of only seven players that were retained by the teams for this season.
Pardeep is not a man of many words - he is (in)famous on the circuit for being monosyllabic - but he is very clear about what the sport means to him. "Kabaddi mujhe khulke khelne ka mauka deti hai (kabaddi gives me the opportunity to play without any inhibitions). It lets me express myself", he says.
Pardeep was only 10 when he began playing kabaddi. Belonging to Sonepat in Haryana, he grew up in an environment where the game was played by almost everyone he knew. "People used to respect the ones who played kabaddi. My uncle and aunt were involved in the game too. And the game was such that once you started playing, you were bound to get hooked. Such was the case with me too," he recalls.
He then went on to participate in several regional tournaments before catching the eye of the national selectors. "I got lucky. The selectors noticed me and inducted me to the state team. I haven't looked back ever since."
Being part of a family of farmers, Pardeep never looked for a separate job. When not playing kabaddi, he would help his family with the daily chores. "I only play kabaddi for a living. I don't know about others, but that's all I do. Other than that, I happily take care of the farms. There's nothing else I would wish to do," he says.
However, one thing he did wish for, even after the PKL, was to play for the nation. "Ek baar (one time). I just wanted to play at least once." And that one time came at last year's Kabaddi World Cup, where Pardeep, once again, proved his versatility by scoring 39 successful raids, the fourth-highest in the tournament. In fact, he went on to become one of only two players, apart from then-teammate Dharmaraj Cheralathan, to win both the PKL and the World Cup.
"It was a dream come true and I'm glad I was able to perform. The World Cup we won over there will forever be the closest to my heart. And as far as PKL is concerned, I'm so very thankful to the league for giving us all the opportunity to shine. All our lives have changed for the better," he says.
Raiders are often known for their agility and presence of mind. In tricky situations, they often try to come up with unique ways of taking away extra points from their opposing teams. One such way, helmed by Pardeep, is, in his own terms, the 'dubki' - which is why he's often called the 'dubki king' by his colleagues. "Mujhe toh mazaa aa jaata hai dubki maarte huye (I quite enjoy attempting the dubki). The defenders keep guessing what my next step would be, when I just dive and reach out to my side of the court," he laughs.
"I'm a very shy person. I talk less. Half the time during conversations, I just observe. But when I play, I let my raids do all the talking," he says. It's little surprise then that Nilesh Shinde, one of India's most well-known defenders, named Pardeep as the most difficult raider that he has come across in recent times. "His presence of mind surprises us all," he had said.
So, has he ever been disappointed with himself? "No madamji. Main jo karna chahta hoon, wahi hota hai (Whatever I want to do, that's what happens)," Pardeep laughs.
Based on the evidence so far, we can't disagree with that.