Before Gujarat Fortunegiants took to the mat in the Pro Kabaddi League on Tuesday, they would have watched fellow debutants Tamil Thalaivas and Haryana Steelers losing in their respective opening matches. The fate of the other two newcomers Fortunegiants and UP Yoddha was expected to be no different.
The Gujarat side were up against a Dabang Delhi team who were upbeat after win over tournament favourites Jaipur Pink Panthers in their opener, while hosts Telugu Titans — who had suffered back-to-back losses — were yearning to get back to winning ways after a much needed day's breather.
Among the two teams, the task on the Fortunegiants' hands looked a lot harder.
Gujarat triumph in battle of Iranians
The Gujarat-Delhi battle was all about the Iranian duels. Their biggest match-winners hailed from Iran and it was a direct contest between attack and defence.
Delhi were hoping that Abofazal Maghsoudlou and Meraj Sheykh could spit fire once again and use their knowledge about Iran's Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mohajermighani, who play at the two corners for the Fortunegiants, to take Delhi to their second win.
"Our plan was to use Meraj (Sheykh) and Abofazal's (Maghsoudlou) knowledge of their corners' game to our advantage. We wanted to play it really slowly, and allow these two raiders to attack their defenders," Delhi's Nilesh Shinde divulged after the match.
But it was the lethal corner partnership between Atrachali and Mohajermighani — which had worked so well for Iran in the World Cup — that grabbed ascendancy in this battle. The duo specifically targeted Sheykh, who failed in all four of his raids in the match. He was also dismissed once by compatriot Atrachali, who handed out a similar treatment to Delhi's second Iranian raider Maghsoudlou.
"I know Meraj very well. I know when he opts to attack, in which area he scores his points and which players he would target. I had briefed my teammates about him and they responded to it very well," Atrachali told reporters after the match.
Due to his ineffective performance, Sheykh was substituted with nine minutes to play, and in the 31 minutes he was part of the game, he spent 20 minutes and 38 seconds off court. To sum it up, Gujarat did a great job on Sheykh and fractured the Delhi attack.
At the start, both teams were a bit tentative. There were few risks been taken and teams were happy to do all the scoring in the do-or-die raids. In six of those raids by each team, Gujarat scored with three, while Dabang Delhi had success just once.
The Delhi outfit had to chase the game right from the start, leaving their defence exposed. Despite some good defenders like Shinde, Bajirao Hodage in their ranks, Gujarat managed to take points in their raids as the Delhi defence came under pressure due to the failure of their raiders to score points.
Even though captain Sukesh Hegde, newcomer Sachin and Rakesh Narwal scored nine raid points in total, it was Gujarat's defence that set up the victory by dominating Delhi's Iranian raiders.
UP Yoddha hammer troubled Titans
The Telugu Titans have had more good times than bad in Pro Kabaddi's history so far, but they haven't had a torrid phase as long as their current one. On Tuesday, a well-knit UP Yoddha packed with match-winners smashed the Titans 18-30 to hand them their third straight loss of the campaign. This is only the second time in history that the Titans have lost so many games in a row.
Unlike Gujarat — who played the waiting game, banking on their defence to do the job — Yoddha took the attack to the opponents who were struggling with form after consecutive losses. The Uttar Pradesh outfit had four accomplished raiders in the team — Nitin Tomar, the most expensive player in the auctions, Rishank Devadiga, Mahesh Goud and Rakesh Narwal. All these raiders had spearheaded attacks for their respective teams at some point in past seasons.
The strategy to go hard at a defence crippled with self-doubt worked well. The Yoddha had a constant supply of points through their raids, but the brilliance of Rahul Chaudhari, who scored a high five in the first half itself kept the home side in the contest.
The Titans hadn't scored a single tackle point until the eighth minute of the first half, and only managed two in the whole of the first period.
The trend continued in the second half as the Titans' defence leaked more points. Sombir and Rohit Rana were particularly having a bad game in the Titans' defence after failing in each of their four tackle attempts combined.
In the second half, when the score was 14-13 in Yoddha's favour, Surender Singh, another raider from their team, came on to the mat. He made an instant, and the most telling, impact when he scored a super raid in the 26th minute to heavily tilt the game in the favour of the visiting side.
The Titans, who were already low on confidence, were further shattered, allowing UP Yoddha to force an immediate all-out. The one-point gap in the 25th minute became nine points by the 30th minute.
There was still time for the Titans to mount a comeback, but a leaky defence and complete lack of support for Chaudhari in the raiding department meant the gap could only get bigger.
Despite scoring seven raid points in the match, Chaudhari always had too much pressure on him to deliver points for his side. He ended up getting tackled thrice in the game and spent a total of 12 minutes and 34 seconds off court, which further added to the home side's woes.
On the other hand, Yoddha had numerous options in the raiding department. So the responsibility of carrying the team was divided, and all the raiders excelled. A total of 17 raid points reflected that. Tomar top-scored with six raid points, Devadiga managed five, while Goud picked up four. The Yoddha raiders were successful in four out of their six do-or-die raids.
Such was the dominance of the Yoddha attack that they were only tackled four times in 41 raids in the whole match.
It was a day to remember for the newcomers as they turned the tide of results for the league's debutants. The emphatic nature of their wins would have pleased their respective camps, but the contrasting styles with which they were achieved adds new shades to the Pro Kabaddi League.
Updated Date: Aug 02, 2017 14:56 PM