Pro Kabaddi League 2017: From home curse to rise of young brigade, takeaways from Haryana leg
Here are a few major takeaways from the Haryana leg of Pro Kabaddi League Season 5, a twelve-week long tournament
While there might be ambiguity in establishing the 'Home of Kabaddi', such doubts are unlikely as far as the home of more than half the players across all franchises of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) Season 5 is concerned.
Haryana, one of the four new entrants to the PKL this season, has produced an astonishing number of players in action this season, and seeing the reception in the state, it is clear that the league has come to Haryana four seasons too late.
PKL made its debut in Haryana this season, and crowds thronged the Motilal Nehru School of Sports stadium in Sonepat to see their heroes playing on home turf.
The three-month long tournament had reached it's halfway stage in the previous leg in Kolkata, and there were still no clear favourites in this Kabaddi spectacle.
It is on such uncertain grounds that the home team and other franchises prepared for a whirlwind six-day long leg consisting of 11 matches that many a time resembled a Haryana vs Haryana clash.
The first three days of this leg featured inter-zonal matches and a day's break was followed by three days of intra-zonal ties.
As the caravan style tournament moves to Ranchi, its next destination and the home of Patna Pirates, here are a few major takeaways from the seventh week of this twelve-week extravaganza:
Haryana Steelers' roller-coaster week
The Steelers, led by India's corner specialist Surender Nada, came into the home leg sitting on the top half of their zone.
The team kicked off it's campaign by facing the Patna Pirates, who were in red-hot form. Pirates' captain Pardeep Narwal, who scored a season best 21 points twice this year, was one of the many players raring to showcase the wares in their home state.
The Steelers settled for a draw in their first match, following it up with a win and a loss in their other two inter-zonal matches against Bengaluru Bulls and Telugu Titans.
A day's break helped them a bit as they returned with renewed vigour to defeat Dabang Delhi, but succumbed to yet another loss, this time against Puneri Paltan.
The home team's see-saw fortunes finally came to its conclusion with another tie against the Jaipur Pink Panthers that put the Haryana Steelers on top of their zone, but in a very precarious position with the other teams closely following them and snapping at their heels.
Haryana's record at their home stretch: T W L W L T. The most befitting way to represent their topsy-turvy run.
No one team is clear favourite. Yet
At the halfway stage of the three-month-long tournament, it gets clearer that there are no firm favourites in PKL season 5.
While the tide seemed to swing in favour of certain teams in the initial few weeks, there has been a resurgence of sorts for the teams considered to be out of contention.
The Gujarat Fortunegiants, who were off to a rollicking start in their debut season, have been halted in their tracks over the past few weeks. Former champions U Mumba, led by Anup Kumar, who had a shaky start to their season, have been notching up one victory after another since the Mumbai leg to slowly climb up the points table, and appear strong contenders for the knockout stages.
Even teams like Telugu Titans, Bengaluru Bulls and Tamil Thalaivas, who were considered pushovers, proved to be worthy competitors and won some invaluable points.
Even if a knockout spot is a tall order for the lower-ranked teams, taking them lightly would be perilous considering the sides who have nothing to lose might just topple the apple cart for the other franchises.
Youth brigade still going strong
Considering the length of the tournament, each franchise made quite a few smart choices and invested heavily on young players who could be moulded to suit the team requirements and would have the required fitness to play the entire season.
Each team has had a number of stand out players outshining the stars in the team.
Sachin, Fortunegiants' star raider, has further established his stature as one of the finds of this season. So has K Prapanjan of Tamil Thalaivas and Anand Patil of Dabang Delhi, who have turned out to be the go-to player in their outfits despite the presence of bigger names.
Haryana's success so far in this tournament has been based on a bevy of young names working spectacularly for the outfit.
Raiders like Surjeet Singh, Prashant Kumar Rai, Vikas Khandola have been prolific in winning raid points for a team that was relying heavily on their defence led by Nada and Mohit Chhillar.
In the last home match of the Haryana Steelers, the management decided to field a team without any big names like Nada, Chhillar and Wazir Singh. The youngsters stepped up their game, held their own and managed a draw against a Jaipur team that boasted of players like Jasvir Singh and Manjeet Chhillar.
In line with what has been the trend of late, the past week has shown that the next-generation are ready to make their mark and step out of the shadows of stars like Ajay Thakur, Rahul Chaudhari and Rohit Kumar.
Kabaddi is getting more competitive
The first day of the Haryana leg saw both matches ending in thrilling ties.
Teams from a strong lead in the first half were seen with bowed heads and drooping shoulders after being handed a defeat.
There were three ties out of the eleven matches played and four matches were decided in the last minute of the game with less than three points separating the teams in the end.
Nowadays, every match seems to go to the wire and it is getting too close to call the game till the referee blows the final whistle.
With an ever-changing team strategy, the speed of the game oscillating with every minute and results hinging on performance of the teams even in the dying seconds of the game, it is clear that no lead is too much for teams to feel comfortable, or feel down and out.
Home Advantage? Not so much
Out of the seven weeks in Pro Kabaddi League Season 5 so far, if there has been any common thread connecting each franchise, it has been the not-so-encouraging performance of the home team.
It started off with Telugu Titans losing five out of their six home games. The Bengaluru Bulls were just slightly better as they managed two wins in their six games.
The Gujarat Fortunegiants' brilliant home run that saw the debutante team remain undefeated with five wins and a tie were the only team to break the home jinx as the UP Yoddha could win just one match in the Lucknow leg.
With both U Mumbai and Bengal Warriors winning just two home games, it was upto the Haryana Steelers to defy the trend by riding the enormous support extended by the Sonepat crowd.
Unfortunately, even the Steelers succumbed to the home curse ending with just two wins in their home leg.
With Gujarat being the only exception, it will be interesting to see if the other five teams break the jinx or become part of the folklore of teams unable to withstand the pressure of performing in front of a boisterous home crowd.
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