Pro Kabaddi League 2017: Dabang Delhi's senior stars let team down in yet another abysmal campaign
Delhi have endured an all-too-familiar tale of underachievement. Once again, the team relied heavily on their Iranian skipper Meraj Sheykh to pull them through the adversities, with other big guns in the team failing to live up to the billing.
Dabang Delhi, along with Tamil Thalaivas are the only teams to have never progressed past the league stage of Pro Kabaddi League. While the Chennai-based outfit has been part of the competition for just a single season, Delhi have been there since the league's inception. Delhi have changed captains, coaches and swapped star players but the only thing that's been a constant is their ability to fail.
6, 7, 8, 7 and 6—These are the positions in which Dabang Delhi have finished in the five seasons of PKL so far. They've done so having some fine players in their ranks, but nothing from Surjeet Narwal's heroics in season one to Kashiling Adake's rampant streak in second and third seasons could aid their ailing fortunes.
The story of the fifth season has been no different, except that the Delhi outfit had a balance to their squad they never possessed before. Thus, the team from the capital that always relied on individual brilliance to achieve rare moments of joy, headed into the new season with a bit more ambition.
However, three months and 22 matches later, Delhi have endured an all-too-familiar tale of underachievement. Once again, the team relied heavily on their Iranian skipper Meraj Sheykh to pull them out of adversities, with other big guns in the team failing to live up to the billing.
Veteran defender Nilesh Shinde, cover defender Bajirao Hodage, and left corner Sunil who were the team's experienced stars and also the defensive mainstay contributed a total of just 56 tackle points, a tally even less than the top five indivudual tacklers in the league. The team suffered defensively as a result and had the worst average tackle points (7.68) among any team. Jaipur Pink Panthers need just five tackle points in their final game to condemn Dabang Delhi to the bottom place in the teams' tackle points charts.
Delhi trounced pre-tournament favourites Jaipur Pink Panthers in the opening match to suggest things may turn out differently than previous seasons, but inconsistency crept in in games that followed. Their next win came after four defeats. It sparked a mini revival of sorts during the inter-zone challenge week, when Delhi won three out of their next four games, but their age-old problems returned to haunt them.
Disorganised defence, broken chain tackles, delayed dashes and a complete loss of composure in crunch situations resulted in a ten-match winless run for The Eagles, that included nine straight defeats. Injuries to Hodage and Shinde forced coach Dr. Ramesh Bhendigiri to throw in youngsters handpicked by him before the season. As it turned out, his worst fears came true and the inexperienced youngsters failed to perform on the biggest stage.
The Shinde-Hodage partnership that had worked wonders for the Bengal Warriors in the past, didn't click for the capital outfit. The duo failed to re-establish the understanding they showed two season ago in Kolkata, and opponents often targeted that broken partnership to inflict more misery on Delhi.
With the experienced brigade failing to dish out performances, Delhi often ended up on the wrong side of the result in close matches. They scored 10 points from matches they lost, and only Tamil Thalaivas have collected the same amount of points from lost matches.
Had the experienced stars fared better, Delhi would have been able to reverse a lot of these results and the scenario could have been totally different.
In Dr. Bhendigiri, Delhi had appointed a coach with great know-how of the game and a wealth of experience. The former Telugu Titans coach had revealed to Firstpost before the season that he had left no stone unturned in preparing the players for the three-month long season. Delhi had trained under lights, with PKL and the club anthem in the background to help the youngsters get used to the atmosphere of the glitzy league. However, it was the senior players who failed the coach's plans.
Captain Sheykh and his Iranian team-mate Abofazl Maghsoudlou Mahali were the shining lights of an otherwise dull campaign, with both scoring 201 points in total. The duo's scores accounted to 30 percent of Delhi's total points. Bhendigiri will be keen to retain the partnership for next season as he looks to rebuild the team.
In terms of pedigree, Delhi have enough in their ranks, but they will have to decide if they want to give their senior players another chance next season. The raiding department will need to be bolstered to ease the pressure on the Iranian pair, but a young and top quality defender preferably in the cover area would be the need of the hour.
Till then, the Delhi side will have to live on with their tag of underachievers and hope in the next season, the team will return determined to right the wrongs of their inglorious past.
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