The second season of the Ultimate Kho Kho is at its business end, with the Chennai Quick Guns, Telugu Yoddhas, Gujarat Giants and Odisha Juggernauts booking their berths for the knockout stage.
There are a total of 148 players spread across six teams, but there’s one state that has churned out the majority of the players: Maharashtra.
Sixty-four players are from Maharashtra, of which 20 are from Kolhapur, with the combined set comprising 44 per cent of the total player pool.
But what makes the state stand apart from others?
To analyse the dominance, one has to trace back to the roots of the sport.
While there are theories that kho kho has been in existence since the Mahabharata period, records state that the modern version of the game was formulated in Pune. The first kho kho tournaments were conducted in 1914, and the first national championship was held in 1959 in Vijayawada under the oversight of the Kho-kho Federation of India (KKFI), which was established in 1955.
From then on, Maharashtra has had a stronghold of the sport.
An interesting piece of trivia is that the idea of Ultimate Kho Kho’s concept was born in Maharashtra, when its CEO, Tenzing Niyogi, travelled to a place called Ichalkaranji in Kolhapur to experience the sport firsthand.
“Ichalkaranji is the hub of kho kho in India. It was an out-of-this-world experience watching them play with so much passion in front of a lively crowd. Tens of thousands of people had come to support their team, and the atmosphere was electrifying. That’s when I thought, ‘If this was packaged in the right fashion for television, then maybe we are onto a success story’,” says Tenzing.
The demographics and surface area of the state are so large that three kho kho associations were formed within Maharashtra. The three are the kho kho Association, the Kolhapur kho kho Association, and the Vidarbha kho kho Association.
Out of the 36 districts in the state, 24 are represented by Maharashtra, one by Vidarbha and the remaining 11 come under Kolhapur.
The adage “Too many cooks spoil the broth” might come to mind considering this three-way split, but Mumbai Khiladi’s head coach Vikas Suryavanshi thinks otherwise.
“I see this situation from a different perspective. The more, the merrier. I say this because three associations mean more opportunities for players all over the state,” says Suryavanshi, who was also appointed as the head coach of the Indian men’s kho kho team in September last year.
“I’m not saying that other states have less exposure to kho kho, but Maharashtra certainly has the edge over them considering the fact that we have been playing it for more than 70 years,” he adds.
Another reason for the sport to flourish within the state is the prevalent club culture. Apart from school and college teams, there are innumerable kho kho clubs, and Durvesh Salunke of the Chennai Quick Guns is one such product.
“Our club, Shri Sahyadri Sangh, houses close to 150 to 200 players and caters to almost all age groups starting from under 14s to senior level kho kho. There will be practice on all seven days of the week, and it’s free of cost as well,” says Salunke, who is currently the third-best Wazir of this season with 32 points.
Salunke feels that, unlike the majority of sports in India, kho kho does not require investments upfront, which makes it easier for youngsters to give the sport a shot.
Maharashtra’s superiority is not just the sheer number of players the state produces but also the superb set of skills that its athletes possess. There have been quite a few breakout stars in the UKK from Maharashtra.
Druvesh’s teammate and fan-favourite Ramji Kashyap, Telugu Yoddhas skipper Pratik Waikar, Mumbai Khiladis’ captain Aniket Pote, and the tournament’s third-best defender, Vrushab Wagh to name a few.
Additionally, captains of all six teams– Akshay Sandeep (Gujarat Giants), Amit Patil (Chennai Quick Guns), Waikar (Telugu Yoddhas), Dipesh More (Odisha Juggernauts), Aniket Pote (Mumbai Khiladis), Majahar Jamadar (Rajasthan Warriors)– hail from Maharashtra.
However, with the introduction of a tournament like the UKK that acts as a platform for numerous budding players, it is safe to assume that more states will try to match the command that Maharashtra has over the sport.
Statewise split of players
Andhra Pradesh- 6
Jammu & Kashmir-1
Kolhapur kho kho association- 20
Madhya Bharat- 2
Maharashtra kho kho association – 44
Tamil Nadu- 2
Uttar Pradesh- 5
West Bengal- 5