After much fanfare, the revamped version of Pro Kabaddi League produced its first stanza in Hyderabad with six days of jam-packed action. In the 11 matches that were played, 571 points were scored and plenty of sub-plots emerged.
It would be fair to say that the action on the mat lived up to the build-up this new season of the league enjoyed. Before the competition shifts base to Nagpur for its second leg from Friday, here are the takeaways from the Hyderabad leg that set this caravan-style tournament in motion.
Telugu Titans' home discomfort
The Titans went into their home leg with a win percentage of 50 percent. The Hyderabad outfit had only lost one-third of their matches played at home, before the six-day long home stanza changed all that. Telugu Titans had a home leg to forget, losing five out of the six matches and enduring their worst form in history at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium.
The Rahul Chaudhari-led side lost five games in a row for the first time since inception, leaving them with plenty of ground to make up in the matches to come. Despite Chaudhari scoring 43 raid points in the six matches at an average of just above seven, the Titans were let down by their shoddy defence. They scored just 44 tackle points in the entire leg averaging 7.33 tackle points per game. This average is the worst among all teams, and that clearly played a big part in their poor run of results.
Playing six games in seven days is highly taxing on a player's body. In addition, the pressure to win the matches at home makes it harder for teams to perform. So it will be interesting to see if home matches actually give the hosts an advantage. "We will take into account the difficulties that the Telugu Titans faced during their home matches, and plan and prepare for our home matches accordingly, so that what happened to the Titans, doesn't happen to us as well," Patna Pirates coach Ram Mehar Singh told reporters after his second win over the home side on Thursday.
Debutants make good first impression
The Hyderabad leg saw four new teams make their Pro Kabaddi League debut. All the newcomers, barring Tamil Thalaivas, had satisfactory outings in Telangana's capital city. Even though Gujarat Fortunegiants' success was the greatest surprise, it was the UP Yoddha who made the biggest impression. The Lucknow-based team left hosts Telugu Titans for dead with their battery of raiders operating at the peak of their powers. It helped them record the biggest win of this season's competition when they thumped the hosts 31-18.
The Fortunegiants too had a memorable time in Hyderabad, with the Ahmedabad outfit finishing the first leg on top of the Zone A charts. With a win and a tie, the Fortunegiants made a solid start to life in Pro Kabaddi. The win over Dabang Delhi, who had earlier thumped the much-fancied Jaipur Pink Panthers, was particularly impressive. In both their matches, all players that were involved in the game scored points. Their two games reflected the cohesion in their team despite lacking too many stars.
The Haryana Steelers were a tad unlucky not leave the city with a bit more than four points. They dominated a good part of the match they lost by a point to U Mumba, before making a fine comeback against the Fortunegiants in their second game. The performances of Surender Nada, who has 12 tackle points to his name, were particularly impressive. The comeback man Wazir Singh and Surjeet Singh also made telling contributions to the cause. Overall, it was a fairly good first leg for the newcomers.
Young stars appear on the horizon
The fifth season of PKL was expected to throw a few more names into the limelight. With four new teams, more players from across the country got the chance to play in the league. Within the very first week, the competition has a handful of budding stars who seem ready to rub shoulders with the biggest stars in the contest.
Among those who have impressed the most, Fortunegiants' Sachin Khanvar and Haryana's Vikash Khandola lead the way. Khandola has 13 raid points to his name in just two games, and played a key role in helping his team Haryana come back into the match against Delhi. Sachin, from the Gujarat side, has just six points to show for his efforts, but a majority of those points have come in do-or-die raids, where the youngster dug his side out of tricky scenarios.
Nitesh Kumar from the UP Yoddha was the star of their defence on an evening when all the raiders stole the limelight. His five tackle points in the Lucknow outfit's 13-point win over the Titans was the highest by any defender from his side. Playing as a right corner, the 19-year-old showed a lot of heart. In addition, Manish and Jaideep starred for the Pirates scoring ten tackle points among them. To the former's credit he didn't even play the full part of the Pirates' second match.
GB More of Puneri Paltan was another star of the show. Even though he scored just three points, he was used effectively in do-or-die raids.
Closely-fought encounters enhance drama
The Hyderabad leg was very intense and hard-fought. Out of the 11 matches that were played, eight ended with the loser adrift only by seven or lesser points. The pick of the matches was obviously the game between Fortunegiants and Steelers that ended in a tie. The see-saw battle finally ended with teams sharing the spoils. The men from Sonepat were involved in another close encounter against U Mumba, only to end up on the losing side by a single point. That game went down to the wire.
Another trend that might have been set in the Hyderabad leg could be about low scores. In the games which have taken place so far, the average points scored per match is 51. That's a bit low than previous seasons. Usually the average points per game figure is between sixty-seventy.
"All teams are trying to slow the game down and play on the third raid. The raiders are now less aggressive as compared to previous years, and that's why we are seeing slightly low scores this season," U Mumba captain Anup Kumar told Firstpost.
Old stalwarts return in style
Just like it did for the younger players, PKL also presented fresh opportunities to some of the old warhorses, who were forced to sit out the previous seasons due to major injuries. Hyderabad leg saw these greats roll back the years and make instant impacts for their respective sides. Maninder Singh (Bengal Warriors) and Wazir (Haryana Steelers) both scored handful of raid points, although the fates of their teams turned out to be contrasting. Maninder's super ten helped the Warriors to a fine win over the Telugu Titans, while Wazir's six raid points against U Mumba went in vain.
However, any doubts regarding the pedigree of these old stalwarts were put to bed once and for all. With a good start to the season, expect to see more noteworthy performances from the duo.
Hyderabad crowd wins hearts
Although the home side Telugu Titans flopped significantly, their fans, who always turned up at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in large numbers, never let them down. The Titans enjoyed their backing all throughout the six matches, and captain Chaudhari was the most revered among all the players. His raids were accompanied by huge roars from the stands and chants of Rahul...Rahul.. were endless.
Despite the defeats, the support from the crowd remained unconditional. At a point of time, the desperation to cheer them to a win was so high that the crowd began booing every opponent player that came to raid. Bengal Warriors' Maninder who scored ten points against the Titans was greeted with chorus of boos each time he came to raid.
Speaking to the media after the Titans' loss to Patna Pirates on Thursday, Titans' raider Nilesh Salunke was in apologetic mood. "I have nothing to say. The crowd was just fantastic. I want to apologise to all our fans from the core of my heart," Salunke said.
Updated Date: Aug 04, 2017 12:12 PM