When Gujarat Fortunegiants’ Parvesh Bhainswal rammed into Pardeep Narwal in the third minute, only for his team to quickly round up on the Patna Pirates’ raider and send him off the mat, it looked like the final of the Pro Kabaddi League was going to follow a familiar script. Narwal, the best raider in the competition by far, had routinely run into trouble against Gujarat’s defence in the past two matches they played, scoring only five and four respectively while his league average was more than 14 raid points per match.
Gujarat had started the match brightly, effecting the first all-out and opening up a 14-6 lead. But it wasn’t meant to be their day. It was Narwal who once again reigned supreme, scoring 19 points to lead his team to a hat-trick of titles.
On the night, Gujarat had only five tackle points, only one from their famed corner pair of Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mighani. It wasn’t the perfect ending but the Fortunegiants had weaved quite a stirring tale in their debut season.
With the league expanding to 12 teams, from the earlier eight, this season, Gujarat, were one of the newbies. But with former Patna Pirates captain Manpreet Singh, who had led the green brigade to their first title, appointed as coach they lay down the gauntlet early on. Not only did they pick up one of the league’s best defenders Fazel Atrachali as their marquee player but brought in fellow Iranian Abozar Mighani to guard the right corner. While Atrachali was picked up for Rs 55 lakh, Mighani in his first season raked in Rs 50 lakh, making them the most expensive players in the team.
During the Kabaddi World Cup last October, the Iran team had showed that defence was their best form of attack. With most of the players coming from a wrestling background, they go willingly into a battle. They have turned aggressive tackling into an art form. Gujarat also brought in the young cover pair of Bhainswal (left) and Sunil Kumar, who used the experience of Atrachali-Mighani well to help the team develop into one of the most feared defensive units.
While Gujarat started off well, they announced their arrival into the league by thumping the glamour team U Mumba 39-21. It was the opening night of their home leg and Gujarat put on quite a show for the home fans, thwarting the attempts of experienced raiders like Anup Kumar, Shabeer Bapu and Kashiling Adake and rattling Mumbai’s confidence.
It was the beginning of a stunning home run, which saw them win five matches and draw one. While most teams struggled to perform in front of their home crowds, Gujarat thrived in the pressure cauldron. During their week in Ahmedabad, they also made possibly the discovery of the season: Sachin Tanwar.
Though Gujarat had given the captain’s armband to former Telugu Titans player Sukesh Hegde, it was Sachin who emerged as their star raider. Only 18 years of age, the tall lad broke down defences with his speed and quick reflexes. He was one of the best raiders this season, scoring 159 raid points from 24 matches.
The shy, soft-spoken boy from Rajasthan, though, was given the freedom to fly by his sturdy team.
“Our defence is our strength,” Sachin had said during the tournament. “I know even if I get out, they will perform well and bring me back on the mat as soon as possible.” As much as his team relied on him to bring in the big raid points, they did not really burden him with the pressure of performance.
Gujarat were by far the best team in the PKL in the group stages, topping Zone A with 87 points and a score difference of 126 points. In their 22 group matches, Gujarat, working like a well-oiled machine, lost only four times.
Mighani and Atrachali were their pillars of strength. The latter had also captained the Iran national team and used his man-management skills well to marshal Gujarat’s defences; Mighani was the action man. Built like oxen, they have, on numerous occasions, felled opponents single-handedly. Having played together on the national team, they also know each other’s games well and have forged an understanding. During the Mumbai leg of the league, Atrachali let on another secret to their success: Irani. The two defenders apparently converse in their native language, keeping the raider guessing which way they are going to go.
In Bhainswal and Kumar, they found willing teammates who fearlessly went into tackles. Rumour has it that the duo likes to hunt together, that they only work well in combination. Perhaps privy to this knowledge, Gujarat had penned their names together on the roster as they set about building a team with eight new players.
Statistics underline why Gujarat’s defence was such a tour de force: three of their defenders made it to the top-10 list of tackling points. While Mighani was No 5 with 65 tackle points in 24 matches, Atrachali and Kumar were joint ninth with 57 tackle points. None of the other teams had more than one on that top-10 chart.
In their previous matches against Patna, it was mainly Mighani who had kept a lid on the effervescent Narwal. The Irani couldn’t quite pull it off on Sunday as the Pirates ran away with the game. But in their first outing Gujarat had shown a lot of heart and emerged as one of the best teams PKL has seen.
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Updated Date: Oct 29, 2017 12:55:42 IST