In addition to discovering an amazing sport, there are a whole mess of other things that you're going to come across when you fall down the cricket rabbit hole. If you thought you were a worldly and informed person, you're going to quickly discover how little you know about some parts of the world. You're going to see how history, geography, religion, and politics -- for better or for worse -- all had a hand in shaping the sport. You're going to be bummed out that certain Twitter threads that you want to follow are in languages you can't identify. And you're going to watch some Kabaddi.
While cricket may be the coolest sport that you didn't know much about, Kabaddi is clearly the coolest sport that you had no idea even existed. It's a mix-up of the playground game Red Rover and team wrestling…with a little martial arts thrown in for good measure.
Two teams of seven guys play on a floor about the size of a volleyball court with each team defending their side. Teams take turns sending over a player -- the raider -- onto the other team's side. The raider's goal is to make contact with as many of the opposing team's players as possible and then get back to his side before being tackled. If he gets back safely, he gets points based on the numbers of guys he made contact with. In addition, those guys that he made contact with have to leave the court. Oh, and the raider can only stay on the opposing team's side for as long as he can continue to repeat the word "kabaddi." In a world full of strange sports rules, that might be one of the strangest.
But it sort of makes sense. It keeps the pace of the game moving quickly, as each "turn" only lasts as long as one very deep breath. And it really rewards players who have the best cardiovascular conditioning -- or at least the ones with the largest lung capacity.
I have backgrounds in both wrestling and martial arts, so the first time I saw Kabaddi, my head exploded a little bit. I had no frame of reference for what I was looking at. It was like watching rugby or fourth-down-and-inches football, but without a ball. The more you watch, though, the more you start to see various strategies emerge. It's cool to see how fast a chain of defenders can circle and trap a raider like an anaconda with its prey. Just as cool is to see how acrobatically a raider can escape such a dire situation.
The seventh season of the Vivo Pro Kabaddi League just started a couple of weeks ago and will go until early September. The twelve team league streams over the Indian site Hotstar, with daily doubleheaders starting at 10 am on the East Coast of the US.
Kabaddi is definitely worth checking out if you get the chance. Unfortunately, I think it'll be a long while before it catches on in this country. Folks here just aren't ready to watch or play a sport in which guys hold hands with each other. Maybe someday.
Here's a Youtube video of the highlights of the recent match between the Teluga Titans and the Patna Pirates. Unfortunately, the commentary is in Hindi. Hotstar broadcasts are in English.
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