The Pro Kabaddi League has not been a bountiful hunting ground for the Puneri Paltan, who have reached the playoffs on just a couple of occasions since the inception of the league and have rarely looked like genuine title contenders.
Despite making some massive buys last season, a string of injuries and poor performances in key matches saw Pune fail in their bid to reach the playoffs, finishing the group stage in fourth place, a whopping 41 points behind Zone A leaders Gujarat Fortunegiants. Girish Maruti Ernak, who was one of the few Puneri Paltan players to have a decent outing in the previous edition, rued the loss of key players, saying, "Last season, we lost too many matches because of small mistakes. A lot of our raiders were injured, which really dealt our qualification chances a blow. I was injured too, and after a point, it was practically out of our hands."
This season, however, they have an ace up their sleeve in the shape of former India captain Anup Kumar, who has hung up his boots and taken up the role of Pune head coach. The addition of Kumar has been lauded by many as a masterstroke, a statement that the players at Pune agree wholeheartedly with. "This season we have Anup Kumar, who is working on improving us individually and as a unit. He was a good player and captain and he will be a great coach. He’s like an older brother to us, which makes it much easier," said star raider Nitin Tomar, when asked about his experience working with the new coach.
The sentiment was echoed by Ernak, who said that Kumar's experience of being a player in the league would be very helpful. "He (Anup Kumar) is experienced in the way that this league works, having played for U-Mumba for so long. We’ve learnt a lot from him already, and he’s become quite close to us, even practising with us from time to time."
Ernak and Tomar's appreciation of the coach bodes well for Pune, with the franchise having paid a significant amount of money to retain them after the duo truly came into their own over the course of a challenging Season 6. For most players, the responsibility of playing with such a hefty price tag can be daunting, but it isn't weighing too heavily on Tomar, who said, "It doesn’t bother me, I’m not scared. The belief that Puneri Paltan have put into me, that’s a reflection of all the hard work I’ve put, of the things I’ve achieved. I’ll do my best to repay that belief by working even harder, and taking this team as far as I can."
Apart from retaining their best players, Pune have also brought in Manjeet from the Patna Pirates and Surjeet Singh from the Bengal Warriors, along with a smattering of youth players to round out the squad. Investing in younger players appears to be the key for Pune going forward, with Ernak stressing on their importance, saying, "We need to get our younger players to work, because most of our strategies are built around them."
Tomar spoke of his own enthusiasm towards working with his younger teammates, saying, "There are a bunch of young players that I’m excited to play with, like Pankaj Mohite, Sushant Sail and Shubham Shinde. They’re good players, and they’re training well, so I want to see what they can do out there. I think they can be great additions to the team."
Heading into Season 7, there is an air of positivity around the team, who are hoping to make up for their lack of bona fide star-power with a well-balanced squad. "I think we’ve improved in a lot of areas, in defence as well as offence. We have a lot of promising young players, but we also have a lot of experience. With the team we have this time, I think no one can stop us from winning the final if we give it all we have," concluded Tomar.
Updated Date: Jul 19, 2019 21:35:22 IST