The Indian cricket team has been consistently at the top of world rankings over the past decade or so and a lot of its success has been attributed to the Indian Premier League which allowed the professionalisation of the sport as well as for talent to be discovered and developed. On the back of the initial success of the IPL, several other sports such as football, tennis, badminton, etc saw leagues come up. But only one sporting league has stood apart in terms of popular as well as commercial success – Kabaddi. Pro Kabaddi league is now in its tenth season.

“An ancient Indian sport, kabaddi didn’t really need an introduction to the audience in the country. But the League, founded by Mashal Sports and televised by Star Sports, brought the sport into living rooms in high-definition. But it was still the recognisable contact sport of the villages and small towns, re-imagined as a sport that was also quick and fast paced.”

Much like the T20 format in cricket, a few rule changes added to the excitement:

A 30-second time limit was slapped on each raid and every third raid was made a do-or-die attempt, to add more jeopardy…Because of the third raid (do-or-die), teams have to think tactically whom to send in first raid, second and third raid. The method has changed completely. Earlier strength and power were important, now it is about speed and technical and tactical awareness. Now you can’t be predictable, you have to keep upgrading, adding to skills every year.”

For Iranian superstar Fazel Atrachali, who has been playing the League since season 2, kabaddi has undergone a massive change. “Now kabaddi is totally different,” he says. “For example, 10 years ago dubki skill was not there. It was more about power. Before all players were like 80kg-90kg, but now they are all between 70 and 75kg, they have more speed. It has become more about mind, rather than just power.”

The league has also been a commercial success enriching its players as well:

“In the player auction for the inaugural edition of the PKL, teams were given a modest purse of ₹60 Lakh. Former India captain Rakesh Kumar was the most expensive buy at ₹12.8 lakhs. Eight teams competed in season 1, which lasted just over a month and 60 matches.

Since then, the League has gone from strength to strength. The number of teams was increased to 12 in season 5 in 2017—no other Indian league has as many teams, even IPL has 10. It also transitioned from a one-month jamboree to more serious three-month league the same year. The tenth edition of Pro Kabaddi will have 132 league-stage matches spread over three months.

At the player auction, the ₹1-crore mark was breached in style in season 6. Six players went under the hammer for a crore or more in 2018, as raider Monu Goyat was picked up by Haryana Steelers for ₹1.51 crores, making him the most expensive buy of the year.”

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