Pawan Sehrawat back on his feet, sets sights on Asian Games

Pawan Kumar Sehrawat is PKL's most-expensive player of all time and was the top raider in seasons 7 and 8. PKL

Pawan Kumar Sehrawat was gearing up for what promised to be his career's biggest Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) season. He was signed on by Tamil Thalaivas for a bank-breaking ₹2.26 crore and was entrusted with the task of leading the team.

But his PKL 9 journey lasted all of nine minutes. He hurt his knee in Tamil Thalaivas' opening game of the season and was stretchered off the mat.

Three months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee, Pawan has undergone surgery and is now in rehab. He recently teamed up with JSW Sports for his commercial interests, which also represent Neeraj Chopra, and will complete his recovery at the Inspire Institute of Sports.

He's in a better place now, but there isn't a day when Pawan doesn't think about those nine minutes he played on October 8.

"I felt a pinch in my knee when I went in for my first raid of the game. I'd asked the coach to substitute me but felt my presence on the mat would motivate the team, so I pulled along. My idea was yeh match nikaal lun (I'll get through this game) and we'd start with a win. And then I would go into rehab..." he tells ESPN from his house in New Delhi.

"That moment...I keep thinking...maybe I'd become too aggressive. Maybe I should have put the team aside and thought about how much pain I was in and that I should have gone for the substitution. I don't want to remember that moment when I got injured, but that's just a part of a sportsperson's career. Koi dikkat nahi (no worries)," he says with a wry smile.

Pawan, who was the top raider in seasons 7 and 8, was advised to undergo surgery but was adamant about not missing the season. "It was personal for me. I thought what about this season? I need to perform."

Pawan just wanted to get back to the mat. Tamil Thalaivas asked him to take time off and get operated on. His physiotherapist warned him that playing with an injured knee could injure the surrounding ligaments. A practice session around October 20th gave him a reality check.

"I felt a jerk in my knee while attempting a bonus and figured the surgery was the best option. That's the entire behind-the-scenes story."

He was operated on by Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, the same doctor that worked on Neeraj's injured shoulder in 2018. He remained in touch with the team throughout and would help them strategize before games. "I was in good spirits when the team won and vice versa," he says.

He admits wondering during the painful recovery phase if the surgery was the right option. The doubts vanished once he was able to walk in 21 days. "It's been two and a half months now and my right leg is stronger than my left. I am working both out but there is a difference," he says.

He adds, "I would work on my squats earlier, I preferred training more on the mat. But now I realize had I done this earlier, I might have done better - instead of 360 points (his best season tally) I could have gotten 400. I've never done so many leg exercises before and I now realize their importance."

Among the best raiders in India, Pawan is now targeting the Asian Games in September-October this year to make a full comeback. And he's keen to help India win back the gold medal from Iran.

Pawan feels he will be a match fit in 30 days: and he could return to the mat for the senior nationals in March.