Pro Kabaddi League 2017: Jaipur Pink Panthers' season spoilt by poor form, inexperience, injuries
For the third time in the five seasons of the Pro Kabaddi League, the Panthers have failed to make it to the knockout stages. In the six-team Zone A this season, the Jaipur team finished fifth, ahead of only Dabang Delhi.
It was another big fall for first-ever Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) champions Jaipur Pink Panthers this season after finishing the previous term as runners-up. For the third time in the five seasons of the tournament, the Panthers have failed to make it to the knockout stages. In the six-team Zone A this season, the Jaipur team finished fifth, ahead of only Dabang Delhi.
The last time the team experienced such a debacle was back in the second season, when they failed to qualify for the second round despite entering the tournament as champions.
For all of Jaipur Pink Panthers’ firepower on offer, there was simply no standout performer who could carry the team forward. Nor was the team a collective force, but instead inconsistencies crept into the side as the season went on.
The Abhishek Bachchan-owned franchise, under the tutelage of World Cup-winning coach Balwan Singh, decided to task the younger recruits with raiding duties. Their inexperience, at times, made all the difference. In game 61 of the season, there was not much difference between the two sets of defenders when the Panthers came up against the Patna Pirates. It was, however, the work rate of the raiders that made the difference, as the Pirates notched up 30 raiding points as opposed to Jaipur's 15.
Jaipur also failed to work as a unit in defence. Against the struggling Telugu Titans – a team whose raiders themselves had been lacking confidence – the Panthers managed to make only three successful tackles in their 41-34 loss.
The Panthers had two of the most experienced leaders in the league – Jasvir Singh and Manjeet Chhillar.
While Jasvir had led the team to the title in the first season, the Panthers added Pune captain Chhillar to their team roster this season at a cost of Rs 75.5 lakh. The two have been stalwarts in Indian kabaddi even before PKL was established and were part of the national team which won the Kabaddi World Cup last year.
But injuries and a dip in form meant that the team never really settled under one or the other.
Chhillar was handed captaincy for this season and he started his Pink Panthers stint on a promising note. The 30-year-old former wrestler made his presence felt, leading into his famed dash tackles with success. But he picked up an injury during the Lucknow leg of the tournament. When he returned after a few weeks, his form had taken a dip.
Still, in 15 games he did manage to pull off a decent 47 tackle points.
Meanwhile Jasvir, who is the face of the Panthers, had a disappointing season. He too played just 15 matches, but picked up low return of only 66 total points.
As the spearhead of the Jaipur attack, Jasvir’s involvement was patchy. He has lost a significant amount of pace in his short sprints, and even his famed ‘scorpion kick’ lacked sting.
His temperament too came under question, as the fiery raider was in a constant argument with the umpires, and even claimed touch points in moves that replays showed were far from successful.
There was also the prospect of both Chhillar and Jasvir’s failure to gel well with each other. Jasvir had been the star and leader of the team for the first four seasons. Chhillar meanwhile had previously led Bengaluru Bulls and Puneri Paltan before being handed captaincy at the the Rajasthan outfit.
Young guns fire
Given the youthful squad picked by coach Balwan, and the fact that the two senior players had been battling injuries and inconsistencies, it was left to the younger players to lift the team.
Pawan Kumar, who has been a part of the PKL since the first season, but had remained merely a fringe player for U Mumba previously, finally had his chance as one of the main starters. And the 23-year-old became Jaipur’s attacking ace, notching up points at a decent rate and eventually finishing as the team’s highest scorer overall, picking up 122 points this term in 21 games.
Yet Jaipur’s find of the season was Nitin Rawal. Though predominantly a defender, the shortages in the raiding department gave him more attacking responsibilities. And he adapted to it well.
In the 21 matches he played, the all-rounder picked up 65 raid points from 148 raids, registering 49 successful forays across the halfway line. At the same time, he kept up with his defensive duties and earned 20 tackle points. His total made him the team’s second most effective player.
What needs to improve?
Jaipur could do well to pay heed to old adage in sports, ‘Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles’. They have some of the brazenness required while raiding to coast on a given day, but their defence has been largely absent. The over-reliance on Chhillar in this department was evident. None of their defenders made the top-10 in the defence statistics in the league, and despite Chhillar missing a chunk of the league, he was their most successful defender with his 46 successful tackles in 15 matches.
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