Lucky Sharma wants the kabaddi buzz in Jammu & Kashmir. to belong

Lucky Sharma was too nervous to follow this year’s Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) auction. Understandable considering that he was about to break new ground for the sport in his state. When Sharma was told that he had been roped in by Jaipur Pink Panthers for his base price of 10 lakh, he wasn’t sure how to react. There was no precedent: he was the first Jammu & Kashmir player to play in the country’s premier league for kabaddi, a sport that has little history in that region.

“This is a big, big opportunity for me,” Sharma said. “I had seen PKL on TV – the stadiums, the lights, the crowd.”

He never thought he would get there one day. Not when in between watching cricket and kabaddi matches in his village of Pouni Chak – some 10km from Jammu – he somehow fell in love with the latter. Not when there were enough hurdles to follow in a state that until recently had no indoor stadium for the sport. Not when he joined the army and had to give up Kabaddi for a year.

“I never thought I could record kabaddi professionally. We come from a background where there is not much awareness. I didn’t even know what level of competition there is in the sport and what PKL was,” he said.

Sharma was in grade 6 when he was introduced to kabaddi on the grounds of the local club in his village. Like most teens in J&K, all the attention was on cricket, but kabaddi caught the boy’s attention. “I immediately became interested and started playing 2-3 days in a row. The coach there has worked very hard for me,” he said.

His father, a driver, never stopped his son from doing what he loved, regardless of the financial constraints at home. But as Sharma grew up, he realized that he had to contribute to the family (he has two sisters and a younger brother). He enlisted in the military in 2015, and during that year’s training, Kabaddi was furthest on his mind.

“I thought I would never play kabaddi again. But after a few years I took part in an inter-army competition and was selected in the army team,” he said.

Sharma, a defender, plays for Services in the Nationals. He struggled with the lack of competitiveness in the state. “We have a competition, but it doesn’t happen often. How is the talent recognized from there?”

The challenges of incorporating kabaddi into J&K don’t stop there.

“The biggest problem in our region is the lack of facilities: mats, indoor stadiums, gym. There is one indoor stadium, but even that was only recently built. Until then, it was all about cricket.

“There is no SAI (Sports Authority of India) hostel. If there was one, kids would focus more on sports, work harder, and have knowledge of aspects like nutrition. Most of them are middle class and can’t afford much. The moment we get some kind of facilities there, more players will go to this level.”

Now that Sharma has charted an unknown path, he wants to get back on the road and make it easier for others to follow. “I want to go for an even higher price at the next auction. I want to do something for the sport in my village: organize a real tournament and buy equipment for the club’s gym,’ he said.

Sharma has no doubts that his PKL breakthrough will give Kabaddi a boost in J&K. “It will be a huge boost. Everyone has asked me when I will be playing. They are excited to see me. My presence on this platform will only motivate them more and make them feel ‘if he can do it, so can I’.”

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