Kabaddi Dream Team, feat. Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and... Leander Paes


With inputs from Debayan Sen, Debdatta Sengupta and Mohit Shah

Welcome to another edition of lockdown diaries, where we put down our journalist caps and let the sports fan inside take over. After grappling with existential crisis, travelling back in time to watch Diego "John Wick" Maradona, fighting over the Nadal - Federer - er, Djokovic GOAT debate, and trying to pick an XI that would make both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola proud, we have looked closer home for this week's topic. And we thought, why not an all-star kabaddi squad made up entirely of non-kabaddi players?

The rules were simple. The contenders had to have the physical qualities to match the requirements of the position they were picked for. They had to be top-level, elite Indian athletes. (We will have a women's all-star team in a subsequent edition of these diaries.) And as per PKL guidelines, they could not weigh more than 85kg (otherwise The Great Khali was a shoo-in).

The seven

Right corner - The first name on the teamsheet and the name that brooked the least debate. Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He is used to crouching for long periods of time, has incredibly fast hands and has one of the most cool and calculative brains in sport. Oh, and the man's strong, really strong. Just ask Mustafizur Rahman.

Right raider - What do we look for in a lead raider? He must be fast (in body and mind), have great hand-eye coordination, be strong and possess more than a fair share of arrogance -- the kind that makes them attempt things normal people wouldn't. Our man for that job? Virat Kohli.

The natural understanding that Virat and MSD share means that they would form a great chain on our right hand-side.

Right cover - There's no way we are going into this without at least one wrestler, and we picked the most aggressive one of them all. Sushil Kumar's tremendous upper-body strength and finely honed grappling technique mean tackling isn't going to be an issue. Besides, it always helps to have someone with a couple of tricks up their sleeves on your side.

Left cover - Next to Sushil, we chose boxer Vikas Krishan, a more cautious presence. A natural left-hander, his combination of upper-body strength and quick reflexes makes him a perfect defensive cover.

Support raider - Our chief support raider is Sunil Chhetri. Possessed of explosive acceleration, quick feet and a sporting intelligence that is up there with the best, he would be a great deputy for Kohli. Oh, and he hates losing. This is going to be a team of Chhetri-like mentality monsters.

Left raider - They call him 'Korean' for his speed, stamina and general tirelessness. That makes Manpreet Singh our main all-rounder, and our third raider. A team player, he would be the one putting in the dirty work as the flashier ones go about theirs.

Left corner - This was our one proper left-field choice. At corner, we need experience, quick hands, strength and a calm temperament. After scouring through a range of options, we settled on Leander Paes. No-look volleys replaced with no-look tackles, crouching at the net replaced with crouching at the corner, a victory lap draped in an India flag replaced, nah, that's the same.

The substitutes

A team is only as good as its substitutes; depth-in-squad is paramount. With that in mind, we have two raiders, two defenders and an all-rounder making up the five-strong subs bench.

Raider 1 - Kidambi Srikanth. Long-limbed, explosively quick over a short range -- you want a bonus point or two, you call Srikanth.

Raider 2 - Jinson Johnson. Johnson has stamina for days, and a reach that few on the team can match. Another athlete perfect for those bonus steals and toe-touches.

All-rounder - Shikhar Dhawan. He's strong, has great hands and is fast, but mostly he has got the celebration. We need that celebration.

Defender 1 - Sandesh Jhingan. The biggest man in the group, and easily the scariest at first glance. We need someone taken out, we bring Jhingan in.

Defender 2 - Bajrang Punia. Another obvious choice. A like-for-like swap for Sushil Kumar whenever the coach wants a slightly calmer presence at cover.

The coach

Ravi Shastri (too hands-off), Kapil Dev (too intimidating), Khalid Jamil (too pragmatic), Anil Kumble (too suave) and Vindu Dara Singh (please) were all thought of and rejected. Then we settled on a man whose advice to a fellow player once on how to play was "watch ball, hit ball." Simple, straightforward and uncomplicated. A man-manager who can handle all the super egos on the team, and an underrated tactician. Virender Sehwag.

Plus, just imagine the press conferences.