A new-look U Mumba side begin the home leg of their Pro Kabaddi campaign on Saturday with a fairly neutral record, having won once against Telugu Titans and lost once against Jaipur Pink Panthers in their two matches so far.
While they had a solid outing against the Titans, their defeat at the hands of the Panthers was chastening to say the least. The margin of defeat (23-42) would put off many but head coach Sanjeev Kumar Baliyan, isn't too worried just yet.
"In the match we lost, our defenders made serious mistakes. You can’t single out a player, our entire defence wasn’t working on the night, even though we have a great defence," said Baliyan.
"It was just one of those days when nothing was working. But it's still early days. Going forward, we need to work on all aspects of our game equally, because that’s what makes a team. If the raiders don’t score, we won’t win, and if the defenders don’t defend, we won’t win," added the U Mumba coach.
With a new coach and some high-profile additions, U Mumba are expected to do well in the league this season, but it hasn't started off smoothly. When asked if the team was in a difficult position, captain Fazel Atrachali responded in the affirmative, but stressed that playing in a league like this is always difficult. "There’s nothing different about this season for me. Last season, it was difficult, and this season, it will be difficult. Also, when you’re the captain, there’s added responsibility on your shoulders. If your raiders are unsuccessful, they look at you, and if your defenders are unsuccessful, they look at you. So you have to be tough," said Atrachali.
He also stated that Mumbai would not be using the fact that they have a new coach as an excuse, saying, "I’m happy with my team, I think it's okay. Every season, everything is new in the league. If you’re prepared for that, it doesn’t matter if there are new coaches or new players, because you expect it. I’m not really missing Gholamreza Mazandarani, because out of all the seasons I’ve played here, I’ve only had an Iranian coach once. So it’s not a problem."
The first match of U Mumba's home leg promises to be a thriller, as it sees them coming up against Maharashtra rivals Puneri Paltan, a team that has got the better of them a couple of times in the not-so-distant past. Baliyan, however, isn't fazed by the 'Maharashtra derby,' saying he intends to approach it just like any other match.
"No matter what team it is, whether it is Pune or someone else, it’ll be a good match. All 12 teams are equally challenging, and you have to win against all of them. We make different plans for every team, we don't have one just for Pune," said the coach.
The derby against Pune will see a number of familiar faces meet again, as U Mumba's new defender Sandeep Narwal comes up against the team with whom he spent the last two seasons. On the flip side, Pune's coach Anup Kumar is tasked with the challenge of defeating the side with whom he played for five seasons — a side that he led to the PKL title in 2015.
Despite Kumar knowing several of the players at U Mumba closely, assistant coach Upendra Kumar maintained that his Mumbai side isn't bothered by the former India captain's knowledge of the team, saying, "Anup Kumar is a great player, and he has played with some of the people who are here at U Mumba. We know what plan he might have to cope with these players, and we also know the options he has at his disposal. We can’t worry just about what he’s planning, we also have our plans in place."
Kumar's Pune have gotten off to a bit of a rough start, losing their first match against Haryana Steelers, and Upendra believes the pressure on the first-time coach may play out to U Mumba's advantage, saying, "Anup has lost his first match, and as a first-time coach, the pressure on him will be immense. We’ve won one of our matches convincingly, so we have that going for us, and we need to take advantage of that."
It might be a little difficult for Mumbai to do so though, with their raiders having failed to turn many heads with their subdued performances in the first couple of games. The departure of star raider Siddharth Desai has been felt by the Mumbai camp, but Sandeep Narwal is certain that given time, the younger raiders will perform, saying, "I can’t agree with the statement that our raiders are not doing well. Look, no one sits at home and makes a name for themselves. Our players, some of whom are very young, have an opportunity this time around to do something great."
"Before last season, not many people knew about Siddharth Desai, but he performed and now everyone knows who he is. This lot of players can do the same. This is the time for young players to shine," concluded Narwal.
Updated Date: Jul 27, 2019 15:20:08 IST