No sweets, milk or ghee: Pardeep Narwal's route to rediscover his mojo

Pardeep Narwal Pro Kabaddi League

Pardeep Narwal is the Pro Kabaddi League's undisputed GOAT. He has the most raid points [1404], the most Super 10s [70], the most Super Raids [67] and the most titles for a player [three].

But of late, he's been in a slump. He finished with 188 points in the last edition of PKL, his lowest tally in four seasons. After tormenting defenders for five seasons on the trot, Pardeep was overshadowed by younger raiders.

He's now on a mission to revive the GOAT in him.

For starters, he's had to let go of his beloved foods: sweets, ghee and milk. "Ghee-doodh ka toh khana hai hamara. Yahan mera ghee aur doodh band hai. [Our food consists of a lot of ghee and milk. I'm not allowed to have either during the season]," he tells ESPN.

"But it's only for a matter of two months..." he quickly adds with a childish grin.

Last year, he had carried two kilos of ghee to the bio-bubble. But it also meant he had to shed weight mid-way through the season to be useful on the mat.

Jasveer Singh, coach of UP Yoddhas, laid a marker for Pardeep early on this season: eat right and train hard, the results will follow. "This time the coach had a clear message to me, 'You need to lose weight. We'll look at your game later.' I used to weigh 84kgs and now I am at 80. He wants me to lose another kilo."

"I've honestly given up on sweets. It's helped me lose weight and improve my and the team's performances. I don't want to hamper that," he adds.

He's even got Chetan, the team masseur, to check his room now and then for sweets. "Chetan gets to eat more than me and he has sweets too! I ask him 'why do you do this to me?' He laughs and says he doesn't need to play on the mat but I do."

Pardeep may be off sweets, but that doesn't stop him from indulging in a game of Candy Crush whenever he's got some free time. Symbolic much?

It's a sacrifice he's had to make to better his fortunes on the mat, because he knows his game is not the same as before. "Season 3 se season 7 mein Pardeep thoda alag tha. Abhi do season ho gaye...season 8 aur 9...thoda accha nahi kar pa raha tha. [I was a different player between season 3 and 7 but I haven't been as good over the last two seasons.]"

Ask Pardeep what's changed over the last two years and he says, "Practice maan lo ya fitness maan lo, kuch bhi maan lo...main acha nahi kar pa raha hun. Main toh fitness hi maanunga. [You could say it is my practice or fitness, but I'm just not able to perform. I'd say it's because of my fitness.]"

It's a very frank response, from a player who knows he needs to work doubly hard to remain effective on the mat.

More than just a Dubki

One issue is that his trademark move has been deconstructed by defenders and Pardeep is now looking to refresh his arsenal. "I tried the Dubki in 2-3 games but it didn't work. The coach is helping me learn new skills like turning defenders inside out and that's working for me."

It becomes all the more important for him to rework his skills because opposition teams now usually have just one defender going after him. "The opposition expects that I will grab numerous points so now they aim to give me only a single point."

But Pardeep is eager to make a statement this season, and it shows. He's dropped weight, he is looking a lot livelier on the mat and is propelling his team's fortunes. After just 19 points in three games, he's got 37 in his last three.

And he's breaking records - like becoming the first player to cross 1400 raid points - even when he's not at his best. He's set himself a target to cross the 1600 raid points mark on PKL9.

"Dekho yeh to kismat ki baat hai, par hamara koshish toh yehi rahegi [it's a matter of fate, but our target is the title]," he says.

The purana Pardeep [old Pardeep] might not be around anymore, but it's time for this Pardeep, the real Pardeep, to pull his weight.