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Pankaj Shirsat Pankaj Shirsat to lead Indian team in 2nd Kabbadi World Cup Mumbai | January 24, 2007 12:48:47 AM IST Pankaj Shirsat of Maharashtra and Air India has been selected to lead the Indian challenge in the 2nd Kabaddi World Cup beginning tomorrow under the auspices of Amatuer Kabaddi Federation of India at the Karnala Sports Academy, Panvel, near here. This the first time a player from Maharashtra has got the honour to lead the country at the international level. A 12-member team was announced by Janardan Singh Gehlot, the President of AKFI and the convenor of the national selection committee.  
The Indian team includes ten players that won the Gold medal at the Asian games last month. Ramesh Kumar (Sr) of Haryana and Rajeev of Bihar have been dropped from the team that won the gold at the Asian Games at Doha. The two, who have gained the nod of the selectors in their place, are Uday Chauta (Banks Sports Board) and Ramesh Kumar (Jr) of Haryana. India had won the inaugural World Cup in Mumbai in 2004. They face a stiff challenge from neighbours Pakistan, Iran and fast improving Japan, though the host are being projected as the firm favourites for the title. The team includes three players from the Services and Maharashtra, two from Rajasthan, and one each from Haryana, B S B, Punjab and Railways. Indian Team: Pankaj Shirsat (Maharashtra - Captain), Rakesh Kumar (Railways-Vice Captain), Dinesh Kumar (Maharashtra), Vikas Kumar, Navin Kumar , Sukhveer Singh (All Services), Navneet Gautam, Suresh Kumar (Both Rajasthan), Gaurav Shetty (Maharashtra), Ramesh Kumar Jr (Haryana), Uday Chauta (BSB), Manpreet Singh (Punjab). COACHES : Balwan Singh (Services), Uday Kumar (CRPF). MANAGER: Sharad Kadam (Maharashtra).
Nagarcity In 1999, Pankaj Shirsat, weighing just under a quintal, was struggling to make the India kabaddi team with its 80kg cap, and went to the national camp with some serious weight-loss on his mind. Sticking to just lime water, sweetlime juice and salad, and helping himself to two chapattis everyday during the 25-day camp, Shirsat pushed the limits of self-discipline to shed those kilos. “I remember how I would run the rounds of the field and cross-country for an hour in those hot April afternoons. But it ensured I got into shape at 79 kgs,” he recalls. A decade later, the 29-year-old Shirsat’s rigorous regimen to maintain his fitness and  
performance levels has yielded him India’s top sporting honour — the Arjuna Award. “It’s good to be recognised for my consistency. I’ve led the team uninterrupted for 2-3 years, and have been part of the national squad which has done well at all international outings,” says the player, who is currently employed with Air India.Shirsat’s career hasn’t been free of setbacks and he was omitted from the 2002 Asian Games team and later the 2005 World Cup squad. “I was left out without any explanation. But I decided to fight on and regained my place after debuting in the 2000-01season,” he recalls. “Once back into the team, I made every performance count,” he says. And he did. At the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, he was India’s star performer in the final against Pakistan. An affable, bespectacled guy, Shirsat is a feared raider on the mat and is known for breaking through rival defences.Against Iran — an up and coming power in the sport — during an invitational meet in 2006, Shirsat came on at half-time as a substitute when India were trailing by six points. He forced a flurry of attacks, earning them a seven-point win. It’s been a long journey for the player from Ahmednagar who took up kabaddi merely to accompany his elder sister to the ground. On the brink of a national call-up in his second year of college, the dates of his annual examination and the India camp coincided. “My college principal told me I could take the exam on October 4 or the next year on April 4. But a chance to represent India might not come again. I never gave up after that even when I was not in the national team,” he says. His personal high was when he overheard a Bangladeshi bunch of players refer to him as the “Dangerman”. Within two days of Shirsat hearing of the Arjuna honour, more good news followed — that of the birth of his son. “We’ll name him Arjun,” Shirsat says.

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