PKL 9: Arjun Deshwal - Jaipur Pink Panthers' raider for all seasons


"Kabaddi is life" reads a tattoo across Arjun Deshwal's left forearm. The raider from Baseda in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh got inked three years ago when he was chosen for the Pro Kabaddi League. He continues to live the dream.

Arjun is Jaipur Pink Panthers' lead raider this year - that's quite the statement considering Rahul Chaudhari, the OG raiding superstar, is also in the team. With Rahul relatively heavier and slower, Arjun has been entrusted with leading the raiding duties and he has flourished.

He is PKL 9's top raider with 211 raid points in 17 matches and averages 12.41 points a game. Arjun is the first raider to cross the 200 raid points mark and with five games to go, and potentially at least two more in the playoffs, he's well set to go past his tally of 268 from last season.

Arjun's biggest weapon is his hand touch. He is a traditional right raider - he begins his raids from the right side of the mat - and his hand touches invariably land on the left corner or left cover. When that doesn't work, he switches it up with a running hand touch or a sneaky toe touch.

What makes him a complete raider is also how good he is while dashing back to the midline, especially in situations when the opposition defence is down to four men or less.

He never fails to show up on the mat - he has a league-high 13 Super 10s - but might miss breakfast every now and then.

"Breakfast kahan, 10 baje utha tha aaj [I woke up at 10 am, so I didn't have breakfast]," he says with a chuckle, talking to ESPN. He led his team to a comprehensive win over Bengal Warriors the previous evening.

The only PKL representative from his village, Arjun took up the sport when he was a kid despite knowing nothing about it. "I used to watch local matches and wanted to give it a shot. A relative of mine was a coach and I began to train with him. But I quit the sport soon after because I got too many beatings," he says.

His family cajoled him into giving the sport another shot and the game eventually grew on him.

As Arjun begins to open up, Sunil Kumar, the Jaipur Pink Panthers' captain, walks in. "Arey O Maharaj, bhai paanch minute wahan baith ja. Iska interview shuru kardo bhai [sit elsewhere for five minutes, please begin his interview]," Arjun pleads with Sunil, who has every intention to trouble him.

"Sunil ke saath mera relationship ek number hai! [Sunil and I have a great equation]" says Arjun, while adding "We don't hold back when it's time to chill and relax, but we give it our all during training sessions."

Arjun's PKL journey began with U Mumba in season 6 and he was retained by them for the next season too. He showed glimpses of what he was capable of and was signed by Jaipur Pink Panthers for season 8. It helped that coach Sanjeev Baliyan, who was with U Mumba, had taken over the Panthers.

"I didn't tell anyone but I really liked Jaipur Pink Panthers and wanted to play in Abhishek sir's team. Even if for one season," he says. The team is owned by Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan, who also owns Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Super League.

Bachchan is a regular when the Panthers are in action and makes his presence felt with numerous punches of the air and shouts of support. "He tells us to play our best and not worry about the result. Watching him cheer for us from the sidelines makes us want to do more," he says.

Arjun hopes to set an example for the other young kabaddi players in his village. "Kabaddi ne naam diya hai mujhe [kabaddi has given me an identity]. When I go home now folks look and say 'Oh look, that's Arjun'. It feels really good to be recognized and that the people know the sport of kabaddi as well. I believe that hard work never goes to waste."

From being adamant on quitting the sport to then watching the PKL on TV and hoping to become the first from his village to play in the League, Arjun has come a mighty long way.

And now with the Panthers on the prowl for their second title, Arjun will have to conjure up his best kabaddi yet. But you can count on Arjun to do that. After all, "Kabaddi is life" for him.