Pro Kabaddi League 2017 half-way mark grades: Puneri Paltan, Patna Pirates shine; Telugu Titans, U Mumba flop
As the Pro Kabaddi League group stage enters its second phase, here's a look at how the teams have performed this season
Pro Kabaddi League's fifth season has just reached its half-way point and it's already outlasted all of the previous campaigns. This marathon season that's slated to last for three months having started on 28 July in Hyderabad, required special preparation and revised tactics. What worked in the shorter campaigns before needed alteration. Youth was incorporated, more players were involved as teams geared up for the grueling 13 weeks of action.
Six weeks into the season, we've seen new stars emerge, some old stalwarts maintain their stature while others fall by the wayside. Contests have become closer, competition stiffer. Raiders have mostly ruled the roost as teams have scrapped to find a defensive combination that performs on a consistent basis.
As the league stage enters its second phase, here's a look at how each team has performed so far and where they stand in the race for the play-offs.
Gujarat Fortunegiants (P:12, W:7 T:2, L:3, Pts: 43) | Grade: A
The Fortunegiants have been the surprise package of the season so far. Packed with young but inexperienced players, the newcomers were expected to at best, throw up a few shock results here and there. But the Sukesh Hegde-led side have done it far too often and find themselves on top of Zone A charts. The Gujarat side are the only team to have made the most of their home leg, winning five of the six matches in Ahmedabad while the other teams struggled to sustain the physical demands of playing six matches in as many days.
Whats worked? Almost everything. Gujarat's main strength is their defence that's been almost unrelenting at times. The corner combination of Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mohajer Mighani has provided the bite to their rearguard taking the pressure off the youthful cover combination of Sunil Kumar and Parvesh Bhainswal that has grown as the season has progressed. The corners have amassed 64 tackle points combined which is the most by any corner pairing. In the raiding department, youngster Sachin Kawar has emerged as the main man racking up 77 raid points so far.
Threats: Inexperience is the only thing that could prevent the Fortunegiants from having a shot at the title this season. It will be interesting to see how they cope with the pressure of the business end of the campaign. They bank a lot on their corner defenders to win them matches and their form will be crucial to their chances.
U Mumba (P:12, W:6, T:0, L:6, Pts: 34) | Grade: B -
U Mumba were once the giants of the Pro Kabaddi League, but those days are certainly in the past. After failing to make the play-offs in the fourth season, the Mumbai outfit haven't made a promising start to the latest campaign. It's fair to say that the auctions came at a wrong time for them, but it's equally true that they hadn't fared well in either of the two previous auctions. The Mumbai side retained Anup Kumar but lost Rishank Devadiga, Jeeva Kumar and Vishal Mane ahead of the fifth season in addition to losing Surender Nada, Mohit Chhillar and Atrachali in the previous auction.
U Mumba's problem this season has been consistency as the Anup Kumar-led side have blown hot and cold throughout. Their senior players like Joginder Narwal, D Suresh Kumar and Shabeer Bapu have been troubled by injuries, while Kashiling Adake has been too inconsistent. The young brigade have been a mixed bag with defenders Surinder Singh and Renjith proving to be too error-prone while raiders like Shrikant Jadhav excelling.
Whats worked? Anup has almost carried the team single-handedly at times. Despite being in a rocky boat, he's hardly lost his mind on the court and like always has led the side well. He has scored 73 raid points under extreme pressure and remains their most valuable asset.
Threats: Injuries have been U Mumba's chief nemesis this season. With experienced players sitting out, their youngsters have been left exposed. An injury to Anup could completely derail their campaign and hence he needs other top players like Adake and Kuldeep Singh to perform and take the pressure off him.
Haryana Steelers (P:9, W:5, T:2, L:2, Pts: 33) | Grade A
Debutants Haryana Steelers went into the campaign as one of the most balanced teams in the competition and so far the debutants have proved to one such unit. With a strong defence, led by the famed corner duo of Surender Nada and Mohit Chhillar, the Steelers have proved to be a tough nut to crack. Youngster Vikas Khandola has been the find of the tournament and he's been their most potent weapon in attack. Surjeet Singh, Wazir Singh Prashanth Kumar Rai have contributed in bursts. There have been days when the Steelers have looked pale, but overall the newcomers have done well to keep themselves in the mix for the play-offs.
Whats worked? The Nada-Chhillar combo has scored 59 tackle points thus forming the team's core strength. Their understanding has made the team tick, allowing the likes of Khandola to raid without much pressure.
Threats: Khandola suffered an injury against U Mumba and the team collapsed to a defeat after that. The Steelers' raiders apart from Khandola have been inconsistent, and would need to play to their potential if the Haryana outfit is to make a title tilt.
Puneri Paltan (P:8, W:6, T:0, L:2, Pts: 31) | Grade A+
After finishing rock bottom in the first two seasons of Pro Kabaddi League, the Puneri Paltan transformed themselves into title contenders in the next two seasons to finish in the third place on both occasions. In the ongoing campaign, Paltan have looked the part. Having assembled the perfect balance of youth and experience, they seem to be the team to beat this season. Led by Deepak Niwas Hooda, the Pune side haven't hit top gear yet, but have only lost two games in the competition so far while winning the rest.
Whats worked? The Puneri Paltan defence is regarded the best in the league. In the likes of Dharmaraj Cheralathan, Sandeep Narwal, Girish Ernak, Ravi Kumar and Ziaur Rahman, the Paltan have a stellar line-up. Narwal and Cheralathan's ability to play in different positions across the defence also adds to the side's flexibility. All-rounder Deepak further adds steel, with the wily Rajesh Mondal, Gurunath More and Rohit Kumar Choudhary providing ample support. The fact that their raiders, especially Hooda, haven't peaked yet, throws up ominous signs for the rest of the league.
Threats: Pune have looked the most complete side in the tournament and their biggest threat comes from within. The two matches they have lost so far were perhaps down to bit of complacency, and the Paltan will have to stay away from it if they are to end their wait for glory.
Jaipur Pink Panthers (P:9, W:5, T:0, L:4, Pts: 28) | Grade: B
The Pink Panthers were one of the tournament favourites at the start, but the Abhishek Bachchan-owned outfit hasn't really lived up to that tag. Inconsistency has been a problem for Manjeet Chhillar and Co, but injuries have certainly put brakes on their progress. Captain Manjeet has missed five games, while raider Selvamani K has been on the sidelines since the opening match. With Jasvir Singh becoming the latest to join the long list of injured stars, the Pink Panthers have been reduced to bare bones.
Whats worked? Jasvir and Pawan Kumar have done quite well for the team in the raiding department scoring 86 raid points among them. The Balwan Singh-coached side have done well to maintain their spirits with several key men out injured and stay in the mix for the play-offs
Threats: The lack of quality back-ups was real concern for the Pink Panthers at the start of the season. With Manjeet and Jasvir both having a bad history of injuries, the Pink Panthers might have missed the X-factor the dynamic duo brings to the table at the business end of the season.
Dabang Delhi (P:10, W:4, T:1, L:5, Pts: 27) | Grade C
Dabang Delhi, the perennial underachievers in the Pro Kabaddi League, have offered little on the mat to change that perception. Some of their players have underperformed to a large extent, making them over-dependent on a certain lot. The Delhi side have made a habit of losing close matches that has condemned them to the bottom place in Zone A.
Whats worked? Iranian captain Meraj Sheykh has been the star of the show for the Delhi side. He has led from the front after a patchy start to the league. Their play-off hopes that are already looking bleak are heavily pinned on the Iranian all-rounder's performances.
Threats: The Dabang Delhi side isn't the worst on paper. They have enough match-winners in their ranks to turn over any team in the league, but their players have never turned up as a unit. There have been fine individual performances, but they have been spread across the season. They need their cover-corner combination of Nilesh Shinde and Bajirao Hidage to fire on a consistent basis, to have any chance of making it to the the latter stages of the competition.
Bengal Warriors (P:14, W:6, T:4, L:4. Pts: 45) | Grade B
The Warriors, just like Delhi, have struggled at the wrong end of the table on most occasions in the past. But in the fifth edition, unlike Delhi, the Warriors have proved to be one of the strongest forces. Under new coach Jagdish Kumble, the Kolkata side have forged a strong defensive unit, allowing the likes of Jang Kun Lee and Maninder Singh to cause damage in their raids. It's been a team effort so far, but an average home leg has meant they have failed to extend the lead at the top.
Whats worked? Raider Maninder Singh who's making a comeback to the league after three seasons has started from where he left in the first. He has racked up 95 raid points so far and made the mercurial Jang play second fiddle to him. Captain Surjeet Singh has come into his own as the season has progressed. With 39 tackle points to his name he finds himself on top of the defenders' leaderboard.
Threat: The Warriors have tied too many games for their liking. Had they converted these share of spoils into wins they would have been way clear at the top, but those stalemates have kept them within the reach of the other teams. The Kolkata side has also played the most number of games, and with just eight games left, they will have to maintain their consistency to progress to the next stage.
Patna Pirates (P:9, W:5, T:2, L:2, Pts: 33) | Grade A
The defending champions have been the strongest team of Zone B suffering just one loss. Having retained star raider Pardeep narwal, the Pirates have built a good support-cast for the raider with Monu Goyat and Vinod Kumar helping out in the raiding department, and Vishal Mane, Sachin Shingade providing steel to their defence.
What's worked? Pardeep Narwal. It's fair to say that Patna is all about Pardeep and vice versa. The young raider from Sonepat has almost single-handedly carried them this season. with 115 raid points in 9 games at a staggering average of 13 per game, Pardeep is 20 clear of his closest rival Rohit Kumar in the leaderboard. Goyat has been his perfect deputy scoring 61 raid points himself.
Threats: An Injury to Pardeep could heavily weaken the Pirates. They need to find a way to keep him fit and firing throughout the season. His exploits have almost always left their defence with very little work to do, and on occasions when Pardeep fails, they will have to step it up to make up for the points.
UP Yoddha (P:12, W:4, T:3, L:5, Pts: 33) | Grade B-
After a promising start to the season, the UP Yoddha have faded away post their home leg. After a poor run in Lucknow, where they only managed a solitary win, the Yoddha have been highly inconsistent. Packed with an array of star raiders, the team has the firepower on paper to challenge for the title, but the Nitin Tomar-led side have lost their way a bit.
What's worked: Raiders Tomar and Rishank Devadiga have led the charge for the Yoddha. The duo have contributed a combined tally of 141 raid points and played crucial roles in their wins.
Threats: The newcomers are too reliant on their raiders to pull them through games. Their defence, although strong on paper hasn't delivered and have just two defenders in the top 25 in the league this season. Big players like Jeeva Kumar and Rajesh Narwal must step up to ensure the UP Yoddha make the play-offs.
Telugu Titans (P:13, W:3, T:1, L:9, Pts: 24) | Grade: D
The Titans have been a disaster in the ongoing edition of the competition. After making a winning start to the season, the Hyderabad outfit lost five on the spin to end their home leg and have since never really recovered from it. Their defence has been all over the place, putting Rahul Chaudhari under extreme pressure to deliver points for the side.
What's worked? Nothing to be precise, but captain Chaudhari's efforts have been noteworthy. He has been prone to errors, but more often than not he entered the opponent's half with his team in dire need for points. He has 94 raid points in 13 games.
Threats: Nothing seems to get the Titans defence functioning and the loss of confidence as a result of their failures might have reached a point of no return. With just nine games left for them, they need to quickly fix their problems and conjure up a winning run to have any chance of reaching the knock-out stage.
Bengaluru Bulls (P:11, W:3, T:1, L:1, Pts: 23) | Grade: C-
The Bulls have been on a downward spiral since the second season of Pro Kabaddi League, and the fifth season bears few signs of a transformation. The Bulls are too reliant on their big-money purchase Rohit Kumar, to deliver the goods, and despite him having a good campaign, the Bulls find themselves languishing at the lower end of Zone B charts.
What's worked? Nothing except Rohit, who's been playing his part, only to end up in frustration due to the lack of support. With 95 raid points, he is second only to Pardeep in the raiding charts, but his team doesn't have a similar position on the points table.
Threats: Time is running out for the Bulls and their defence is far from being settled. They have just one defender among the top 20 in the league in terms of tackle points and that's been their shortcoming. A strong run in the second half is the need of the hour for the Bulls to make their first play-off appearance since the second campaign.
Tamil Thalaivas (P: 9, W:1, T:2, L: 6, Pts: 16) | Grade: D-
Hailing from kabaddi's birth place, and co-owned by Sachin Tendulkar, the Tamil Thalaivas came in with much fanfare. But since then their season hasn't been anything short of farce. They've won just one game in nine matches and have managed the near-impossible feat of losing to the Titans twice this season. The inexperience in the ranks is glaring and the coach Bhaskaran's constant criticism of captain Ajay Thakur and his players hasn't helped. The Thalaivas are the bottom-placed team of Zone B.
What's worked? K Prapanjan has been the shining light in the Tamil Thalaivas rank. The young raider has played a big part in the games where they have avoided defeat. Thakur has shown signs of form recently, but hasn't been up to the mark as the captain of the side.
Threats: The lack of experience means the team may fail to comeback from the abbys they find themselves in. The coach going vocal about the lack of response from his players to his instructions also suggests things might not get better any time soon.
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