The game of Kho Kho is set to enter a new era as a total of India’s 143 best players were hand-picked by six franchises on Thursday for the inaugural edition of the Ultimate Kho Kho in Pune.

India’s first-ever franchise-based Kho-Kho league, promoted by Chairman of Dabur India, Amit Burman in collaboration with the Kho Kho Federation of India, will be played from August 14 to September 4 at the Balewadi Stadium.

A total of 240 registered players, from 28 states and union territories were part of the draft process. They were divided into four categories, A, B, C and D, according to their performances in international matches, the recent National Championships and evaluation conducted by the league. 

The 77-top players from Category A, offered Rs 5 lakh and the South Asian Games gold medallist Pratik Waikar, Andhra Pradesh’s Pothireddy Sivareddy, Tamil Nadu’s M Vignesh and Karantaka’s Gowtham MK were among the 20 players who were handpicked by the franchises.

While Waikar and defender Gowtham were picked by Telugu Yoddhas and Odisha Juggernauts respectively as their first pick, Chennai Quick Guns added local boy Vignesh to their squad. The 26-year-old all-rounder and one of the best pole divers in the country,  Sivareddy will represent the Gujarat side. 

A viewer-friendly revamped format is expected to bring about a transformation in how this indigenous sport is perceived in the country.

“Finally, the Ultimate Kho Kho drafts are over and it was a well-rounded draft which comprises players across the country. We are really happy and proud to see this first step in the progression of creating Ultimate Kho Kho as a mega league in the Indian sporting ecosystem. Now that the franchises will get to work with the players' camp and the coaching camp till August 1, our endeavour at Ultimate Kho Kho will be to market the game and make this league a grand success,” Ultimate Kho Kho CEO Tenzing Niyogi at the end of players draft.

It was Maharashtra’s Mahesh Shinde, who became the first player to be picked in the historic players draft. The 27-year-old defender was drafted by KLO Sports-owned Chennai Quick Guns. 

"We have a balanced squad of experienced and as well as youthful players so we are happy with it. Hopefully, during training we will analyse their abilities based on that we will form a team. With the number of matches we will know how to form our team, " said Chennai Quick Guns co-owner Srinath Chittoori.

"We had some strategies, we had some players we wanted to select. We had a plan A, B and plan C. Some players which were in our plan A were already picked by other teams but obviously because we have multiple plans and we knew the right strategy, I think a good squad of 24 people for Mumbai Khiladis is ready. I feel it is a very balanced team. The approach is very clear, Mumbai Khiladis and their punchline is Khel Khila Denge, so we know we'll tell our Khiladis to play their best and go and top the ladder," said Punit Balan, co-owner of the Mumbai team.

Chennai Quick Guns, Gujarat Giants, Mumbai Khiladis, Odisha Juggernauts, Rajasthan Warriors, Telugu Yoddhas did their best to pick strong squads as they will fight for the title in Season 1.

"Being the first season we have relied on the coach's input and who have gone ahead and suggested names. So we have taken a lot of players from the senior category which is A and B, then have blended them with a lot of youngsters in C and D. So we hope that with the experience and the youth which gives the bigger speed we will be able to do well in the first season," said Colonel Vinod Bisht, CEO GMR League Games, who owns Telugu Yoddhas.

"As far as we are concerned from the Rajasthan Warrior side, I think we had a very satisfying draft. We are I think quite sure that we will be able to come up with a very successful team and very mature team in the season to come. I think we will give a very tough fight to whoever it is and of course, it depends on how we manage the team which I ensure we will do very well," Ajit Sharan, Director of  Capri Global who owns Rajasthan Warriors.

A total of 34 matches will be played over the period of 21 days in the first season of the league. The knockout matches will be played in an exciting playoff format which will consist of qualifier and eliminator matches.

"Ultimate Kho kho is a very good opportunity for our Odisha Kho-Kho team. We have been doing very well at junior levels and as the Odisha government has owned a franchise now it's an opportunity for us to contribute towards the growth of this game. I think our team is better than all other teams because we have chosen very good players and mostly we got around 80% of our listed players," said Lilan Prasad Sahu, OSD, Dept of Sports and Youth Affairs, Govt of Odisha.

"We are excited to contribute to this game-changing experience through our franchise at UKK League. UKK will bring forth our indigenous sport in a new avatar, and we look forward to being a part of yet another journey of mud to mat. The right team selection is integral to the success of a franchise and a lot depends upon the sequence of the draft. But thanks to our coaches to have aptly strategized and selected the desired talent from a pool of 240 players," said Satyam Trivedi, Adani Sportsline which owns Gujarat Giants.

With Sony Sports Network being the official broadcaster of the Ultimate Kho Kho Season 1, the exciting live action will be telecasted live in Hindi (SonyTEN 3), English (SonyTEN 1), Tamil and Telugu (SonyTEN 4) as well as on their OTT platform, SonyLIV. Two matches will be played during the league stage with the first match starting at 7:00 pm (IST).