We want to be aggressive: Meraj
After leading the Iranian national side to the Final of the kabaddi World Cup last year, Meraj Sheykh is back in India as the skipper of Delhi Dabang side in Pro Kabaddi League season 5. He talks to Akshay Sharma about his team's prospects as well as those of Iran in the future
How do you feel about the responsibility of captaining Delhi Dabang?
It's always a great feeling to captain a side. I'm very confident of the team we have at Dabang Delhi and I believe with the right kind of leadership this team can challenge any side. Being captain means setting the right example, and I'm confident of doing that both on and off the mat.
What are the goals that you have set for your team in season 5?
As a team we want to be aggressive and challenge for the title in this season of Pro Kabaddi. The goal is to go out, play hard and give it our best shot in every match. If we play to our potential we can succeed in this tournament.
What are, in your opinion, the strengths and weaknesses of your side?
I think we are a very good unit with the right mix of youth and experience. Keeping in mind that this season is longer, the team has invested in good bench strength as well and I think that's a good decision. Overall we're an aggressive side who have a winning mentality and that I think is our biggest strength. In terms of weakness I don't think any side in this tournament has a real weakness. All the teams are quite competitive and evenly matched, so it all depends on performing on a given day.
Which players are you most looking forward to play with?
To be honest I look forward to playing with the entire team, they're a talented bunch. The best part about the team is that it has a good mix of experience and youth, which means we learn new things from the younger players and they get a mentor in us. We also have NIlesh Shinde, who's a big name and has experience in this tournament. Playing alongside him will be a good experience for sure.
As an Iranian, how has been your experience of playing in PKL?
Pro Kabaddi has given nations around the world a chance to showcase their talent in the sport. Here nationality isn't a differentiating factor. When we're on the mat, we all play as one team, no matter where we are from. This I think is the best part about Pro Kabaddi, it's brought people from different nations closer to each other through sport.
How has the experience of playing in PKL helped Iranian players?
Pro Kabaddi is the first kabaddi tournament that's been organised at such a large scale and drawn such viewership. That in itself is a huge motivating factor for any kabaddi player, no matter where they are from. Players from Iran as well as from other countries around the world have benefitted from the platform that Pro Kabaddi has given. Dabang Delhi has made me, an Iranian player, their captain and I think that shows how much this tournament helps players from every country.
Has the Iranian team been able to develop their own unique style of kabaddi or are they trying to match the Indian side?
Every team has their own style. It isn't about countries or clubs. For instance you will notice that even Dabang Delhi will have its own aggressive style of play this season. That's just the nature of the sport that kabaddi is. So yes Iran has its own unique style as does India, but not one tries to match each other's style of play, every team looks to do what suits their players best.
How disappointing was it for the Iranian team to lose the World Cup Final to India last year after having the lead at half-time?
Of course, it was disappointing, we were leading at half-time and we should have capitalized on it. But I like to take the positives from that tournament. For Iran to make it to the Final was a big achievement and the result of all the hard work that we put in. When I look back at that tournament it is a proud moment for me and for everyone that played. Perhaps next time we can go one step further.
Are you confident that Iran can beat India in the next world cup, and if yes, why?
Only time will tell, but as we showed in the last world cup, we are good enough to challenge just about any side.
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