Winning a league thrice is no mean feat and it gets even better with the fact that Patna Pirates managed to win the Pro Kabaddi League seasons three-five, with almost different team compositions in each season.
One of the very few constants across the three seasons for the Pirates has been Pardeep Narwal who has grown from an unsure teenage sensation to become one of India's best raiders at the very young age of 20.
With two semi-final finishes and three titles, the Pirates have now developed an aura of invincibility around them as the wait for another team to etch their names on the trophy continues.
The Pirates began their title defence in the 2017 edition with a four-match unbeaten streak.
Such a blistering run by the revamped team led by Pardeep ensured that the defending champions were firm contenders for the title despite having just seven players in their squad with PKL experience.
However, in the next 14 matches, the Pirates managed to win just seven games, while tying three and losing four in a phase that exposed their biggest strengths and their glaring weaknesses to their opponents.
Pardeep, clearly the lynchpin of the team, got better with every game and was breaking all existing records to cement his place firmly in Pro Kabaddi history as the most successful raider. In combination with the Pirates' second raider Monu Goyat, the team scored more points than any team across the league.
On the other hand, their shaky and unsettled defence conceded most points by any team in this franchise.
This gulf between the Pirates' offence and defence was one of the major reasons for their four-match win-less streak that brought an end to their league stage.
Though the defence performed pretty sketchily, it can also be attributed to the ridiculously high standards set by Pardeep that left everything else a pale shadow of the actual scenario.
The defence was held to such high expectations that every loss was magnified and put under heavy scrutiny.
In the seven matches the Pirates ended on the losing side, it was only in the game against U Mumba that they were defeated by a big margin (10 points). Every other encounter saw the two-time champions lose with a margin less than five points.
Jaideep was the pick of the defenders who was placed fourth in the list of top tacklers with 71 points and had the second-highest number of High 5s in the league. Three of the Pirates defenders also managed the third maximum number of super tackles.
Nevertheless, every Pirates game, irrespective of the result of the match, had two things in common – an infallible Pardeep and a subpar defence.
While the wins did ensure they qualified to the business end of the tournament, the losses forced the Pirates to settle for the second spot in their zone. This resulted in taking the long-winding play-off route of winning two eliminators and a qualifier for a place in the final.
This is where Pardeep, transformed himself into a raid-machine to score a whopping 76 points in three matches to take his team to the final where they met their 'rivals' Gujarat Fortunegiants.
The 28 October match between the best raiding unit and the best defensive team in the entire league was worthy of a final and it lived up to its billing.
Pirates, equipped with an impressive Pardeep, the first and only raider to score 300 points in a single season, took on the Fortunegiants for the third time that season.
In an uncanny coincidence to the previous season, the Pirates once again faced a team that had defeated them twice in the group stages.
In season four, the Jaipur Pink Panthers beat the Pirates in both group stage games and had kept Pardeep subdued. He could score only 14 points before winning the final for his team with 16 raid points.
It was eerily similar to the turn of events in season five where the team from Gujarat defeated the Pirates in the league matches with their well-oiled defence keeping Pardeep in check. The 20-year-old who averages 14.2 points per match could manage just 10 points in the league games against season-debutants Fortunegiants.
But, in a repeat of the season four final, Pardeep top-scored with 19 points to lead his team to a hat-trick of titles.
Their performance in the final was a microcosm of their entire season.
A match where Pardeep started off sketchily, Monu stepped up to the challenge, the Pirates' defence began abysmally only to revive their fortunes as the clock continued to tick. With every passing second, Pardeep and the Pirates regained momentum to widen the lead so much so that a comeback was thwarted even before it began and the Pirates ended on the winning side with Pardeep breaking a record or two in the process.
The final also gained notoriety after the war of words between Fortunegiants coach Manpreet Singh and his Pirates counterpart, Ram Mehar Singh, which ensured the clash between these two teams will be remembered for more than one reason.
However, the main reason behind the sustained interest in the league over a duration of three months and more than 120 matches was not the off-mat controversies ranging from coaches letting off steam at press conferences or constant references to shoddy or biased refereeing.
In a world where a sport's success depends on its visibility and monetisation, an indigenous contact-sport is finally getting its due and has been able to generate a long list of players who have become household names.
This has been the major reason behind the victory of the league and nothing can elucidate this better than the chants that reverberated at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai on 28 October.
The never-ending chants for a player who has been instrumental in making a lot of new fans for a sport and helped the league have its very own growing legion of loyal followers.
If Patna Pirates felt they were unbeatable, it is because of the shy, reticient, one-man-army hailing from Haryana who now holds the torch high and seems to be in no hurry to let the light fail.
Chants of "PARDEEP!! PARDEEP !!" grew louder with every week and towards the end of the caravan-style tournament, Pardeep Narwal became a name as synonymous with Indian kabaddi as Sachin Tendulkar is with Indian cricket.
Published Date: Oct 30, 2017 09:07 pm | Updated Date: Oct 30, 2017 09:07 pm