The importance of brevity in sports couldn't be better articulated than by watching a kabaddi match with two halves of 20 minutes each and seven players on the mat who ensure that the scoreboard keeps ticking.
Though brevity might be the hallmark of this sport, this season's three-month long caravan-style was anything but brief.
The number of teams in the Pro Kabaddi League expanded from eight in the previous seasons to 12, with teams from Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu joining the other franchises from all over the country.
A lot was expected from the newcomers—Gujarat Fortunegiants, UP Yoddha, Haryana Steelers and Tamil Thalaivas.
With the round-robin league in its last leg, it is the end of the road for six of the twelve teams that started their journey on 28 July in Hyderabad.
Among the newcomers, it is only the team from Tamil Nadu led by the impressive Ajay Thakur that has failed to make it to the next stage of the tournament.
Tamil Thalaivas ended this season on the bottom of the Zone B table with just six wins and 14 losses from 22 matches.
Analysing the franchise, owned by a consortium of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and businessman N Prasad, just based on the points table will be a gross injustice to the calibre of the debutants.
Tamil Thalaivas have had a mercurial run in their debut season and made quite a few off-beat but brave choices starting from the team selection.
Thalaivas were the only team to have filled up the complete quota of 25 players, heavily invested on inexperienced youngsters, who the team management hoped would hold the team in good stead throughout the tournament.
With 16 out of the 25 players in the Tamil Thalaivas team being rank newcomers in the Pro Kabaddi League, it was certainly a gamble and one that almost paid rich dividends.
Nothing explains the run of the Thalaivas in their debut season than the number of points they notched up in the defeats.
Out of the 14 matches they lost, they scored a bonus point in 10 of those because less than seven points separated both the teams.
Thalaivas were defeated outright only in a handful of encounters and the lack of experience in their squad proved to be a decisive factor in not being able to close the important moments in a match and end up on the winning side.
During a telephonic interview with Firstpost in September, the Thalaivas’ coach Kasinathan Bhaskaran attributed it to the inexperience of the new players and felt that a change was right around the corner.
“There are a lot of young people, but they had issues with settling under the publicity and fanfare. They lost because of their inability to convert the team strategy into actions on the field. They are now improving under the guidance of captain Ajay Thakur.”
A decent run in Sonepat and Delhi propped up their chances to make it to the play-offs. The team was still involved in close matches but somehow had not figured out a way to end up the winners.
“The final five-minute strategy seems to be working for us now. Initially, our young players couldn’t adapt to the tempo of the game and channelise the team strategy. But with time and experience, the players seem to have figured out the right balance between instinct and strategy,” said Bhaskaran, in another Firstpost interview, ahead of their home-leg in October, which would have made all the difference to the team.
Unfortunately, the home-curse that plagued most of the franchises this season struck the unkindest cut to the Thalaivas when they played in front of a supportive Chennai crowd.
Unable to win a single game, losing all six encounters drew the curtains on their dreams of making it to the play-offs.
Once again, in three out of the six matches played in Chennai, less than four points separated the Thalaivas from winning the match and notch up an all-important five pointer.
However, it was not all gloomy for the Thalaivas in PKL season 5. There were many takeaways and fond memories that the team would carry into the next season.
Their biggest strength was the captain Ajay Thakur who shook off a unflattering start and marshalled his limited resources while taking the Thalaivas to within sniffing distance of victory on most occasions.
Ajay Thakur, the league’s second-most successful raider with a whopping 222 points, came into his own as the tournament progressed and guided his relatively young team as far as possible.
The coach had high words of praise for his captain and said, “The turnaround for the team and the improvement of the young players was possible only because of seniors like Ajay, whose warmth made him more of an elder brother than just the captain.”
The other major impact player for the team was the young K Prapanjan who delivered with increasing consistency as the tournament progressed. His 124 points put him in at No 12 in the top raiders of the tournament, ahead of big names like U Mumba’s Kashiling Adake.
Amit Hooda added a lot of strength to the Thalaivas’ defence and the other youngsters chipped in with considerable contributions.
There is nothing that was majorly flawed with the Tamil Thalaivas except their inability to close the games and get those five points. An impressive and disciplined performance for 35 minutes of the match wouldn’t matter much if they squander their chances in the last five and end up as the losing side.
Such losses not only affect the players and team management, but take a toll on the fans too.
However, the fans of Tamil Thalaivas seemed to hold on to their loyalty irrespective of the results of the matches. Such fierce respect for the team and sticking with them through the vagaries of the franchise’s fortunes didn’t go unnoticed.
Bhaskaran, effusing praise on the constant support for the Tamil Thalaivas, said, “The fans are always positive. A win gets them all pumped up and a loss makes them sympathetic towards the players. They rally behind the Thalaivas and push the team forward.”
The 2017 season might not be the start the Tamil Thalaivas would have expected when they started amid much celebrations and fanfare. The hype went through the roof mainly because the game of kabaddi was finally coming to the place where it is said to have originated.
Thalaivas’ performances in the 2017 season were oscillating from the jaw-dropping to the heart-breaking and the team had to settle at the bottom of their zone at the end of a three-month long journey.
In 2018, it will be a fresh start for the Tamil Thalaivas and they will look to make the most of the experience gained in this journey that could have gone a bit longer if certain kinks were ironed out earlier.
In 2018, they wouldn’t have the luxury of citing inexperience as a reason for below par performances.
In 2018, they wouldn’t be given any sort of leeway for being debutants.
However, now it is time to bid goodbye to one of the most enterprising and brave teams this season.
It would be interesting to see how this group of relatively ‘inexperienced’ youngsters led by an inspiring Ajay Thakur, who have a bright future, perform in Season six.
If previous affiliations of Chennai people with teams from their city is something to go by, the Tamil Thalaivas are in safe hands with regards to their fan base.
A fan base that is built on three important layers of Tamil Nadu—cinema (Kamal Haasan is the brand ambassador), cricket (Sachin Tendulkar is the owner) and what is considered to be the sport of their soil, Kabaddi.
Updated Date: Oct 16, 2017 17:59:45 IST