Maninder Singh: How PKL's strongest raider has become its most consistent

Maninder Singh PKL

There are strong kabaddi players. There are ultra-strong kabaddi players. And then there is Maninder Singh.

He's got boulders for shoulders, logs for quadriceps and is an absolute tank on the mat. A few days ago, he lifted an opposition defender over the midline and into his side of the court. Yeah, he's real strong.

His raiding is second to none. He's the classic multi-point specialist - a raider who gets you a minimum of one point when he skips into the other half of the mat. This trait is best explained by the fact that he has PKL's highest average raid points per game - 9.95. That's a guaranteed Super 10 every time he steps on the mat!

He also has the second-most raid points [1114], Super 10s [55], and Super Raids [37]. What makes him so effective? Two factors - his stunning reach, his running hand touch, and his ability to power through any defence [it takes an army of men to stop him]. He admits he may not be the most skillful player, but it's his brute strength that sets him apart.

His mantra to success, you ask? Fitness and diet. In our 20-minute interaction, he used the word fitness a minimum of 30 times. "Fitness levels and diet aren't to be maintained just during the season, it's a continuous process. That's how you remain consistent. Better fitness = greater consistency," Maninder tells ESPN.

It's a full-time obsession for Maninder: he allows himself to rest for about 15 days after the season and then gets back into his routine. It's what helps him remain on top of his game.

"If you're fit, you can do anything. For me, 70% of my game is fitness. You can perform skills on the mat only if you're fit," he says.

He adds, in jest: "The new guys aren't all that particular about their diet - koi noodles kha raha hai ya kuch aur kha raha hai [some of them are eating noodles]. Diet is very important."

Back home in Jalandhar, he guzzles an astonishing 15 litres of milk a day and doesn't hold back on desi food. "My body is such that whatever I eat gets absorbed," he says.

His diet during the season is a little different: fruits and juices for breakfast, chicken/fish for lunch followed by mutton/fish for dinner. There's a strong emphasis on protein, but he does have a roti or two now and then.

He concedes that the toughest part, however, is cutting weight before the weigh-in. The weigh-in is held two days before the start of the season and mid-way into the season. Players have to weigh under 85 kg to be eligible to participate in the League.

"I weighed 94 kg before the season and that's my natural body weight. Sabse zyada problem jo haina apne ko eight kg kam karne ki hai [the toughest part is to lose the extra 8 kg]. It would be great if they changed the cut-off to 90 kg (laughs)," he says. "Humein Pro Kabaddi ki match ki itni tension nahi hoti hai jitni weight ki hoti hai [I'm not as tense about a game as much as I am about my weight]," he adds with a hearty laugh.

Maninder is also the Pro Kabaddi League's Mr Consistent. Earlier this season, he became just the second raider to cross 1000 raid points. And he did that despite having played only six of the last nine seasons of PKL.

"As a raider, I have to fine-tune my game every season. Our coach K. Baskaran is very technical and he keeps making small changes to my game. He has guided me throughout the last nine seasons and I am what I am because of him. Even now he says you have the power, if you can add some more skills to your game then no one can match you."

Maninder was part of coach Baskaran's team in the inaugural edition of the PKL when Jaipur Pink Panthers won the League. Baskaran has been Maninder's biggest cheerleader over the years, but he's facing stiff competition now: from Maninder's two-year-old daughter Gurneez Kaur.

"Oh, she knows a lot about kabaddi! She knows terms like Super 10, Super Raid and even knows my full name as Maninder Singh," he says, beaming with joy.

"She doesn't want cartoons, she's very fond of watching sports on TV, especially tennis. She doesn't know the difference between a win or a loss yet but she's been taught to say jeetke aana [come back with a win]. My family sends me videos of her watching my games and cheering for me, and that really keeps me going."

It keeps Maninder going alright, past the mid-line...with defenders scrambling to pull him back.