Jaipur Pink Panthers achieved immortality in the history books of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) when they upstaged U Mumba in their own backyard in the final of the inaugural edition of the PKL to become champions in the inaugural edition of the league.
The event in particular and the sport in general have grown leaps and bounds since then, but Jaipur's progress hasn't followed the same trajectory. In the second season of PKL, playing as defending champions, the Pink Panthers struggled to maintain the level of performances that saw them topple the favourites in the opening campaign.
Even though it took a spirited Patna Pirates to knock them out on the final day of the league stage in a match that went right down to the wire, the results struggled to reflect the quality in their ranks. Owner Abhishek Bachchan ran straight down to the mat after that match to give his players a hug of consolation after the match, but deep down he knew his team had under-performed.
Season 3 saw teams like Puneri Paltan and Bengal Warriors pick themselves up from the abyss and wrestle themselves into title contention. The result of that led to Jaipur Pink Panthers, once the most dominant force in the league, slipping further down the league's pecking order.
The auctions in Season 4, in addition to appointment of veteran coach Balwan Singh, saw the Pink Panthers roar their way back to the elite. They went all the way to the final. The stage was set for the Pink Panthers to snatch the crown back by beating the defending champions in the final, but it was not to be.
Jaipur faltered as the emotion of the occasion got to them. Patna romped to their second title, and Jaipur's tale of revival ended in an anti-climax.
As one auction provided the chance for redemption, another threatened to spoil their good work. But Jaipur's astute strategy at the auctions, which showed in their success in the previous one, was no fluke. They surprised many by not retaining a single player from their team that finished runners-up in Season 4.
So that left them with enough funds to dictate the terms in the auction. Getting their hands on star all-rounder Manjeet Chhillar was an early statement of intent, but when they got back Jasvir Singh and Selvamani K, it was clear that there was something more than just their money might that was doing the talking. They had a plan not just to secure their targets, but also ensure their rivals don't get theirs cheaply.
With Jaipur always in the running for a big name player, they ended up buying all those that they felt were required. The result was a dangerous-looking combination with the right blend of youth and experience.
However, in going berserk behind the top stars, Jaipur missed the trick by not having back-up players with a bit of experience. It was the only blemish on the otherwise excellent auction, where their strategy pretty much paid dividends.
Jaipur Pink Panthers will be thrilled to have the experience of Navneet Gautam, the aggression of Jasvir and Manjeet, the exuberance of Selvamani and Tushar Patil, and the tenacity of Somvir Shekhar and Manoj Dhull in their ranks. That's as good a package one will get in a season featuring 12 teams where the talent pool is a bit more divided.
Jaipur's problems though start after these experienced heads. The Pink Panthers have 11 players who haven't played a single game of Pro Kabaddi yet. They may be some of the most talented players around, but the glitz and the glamour of the PKL is a different kettle of fish to deal with. Often, young players require a season or two to shine. The likes of Pardeep Narwal, Deepak Hooda, who have grown as the league has aged, are prime examples of that.
Moreover, if you take a look at the senior players in Jaipur's ranks, almost everyone of them has had a history of injuries. There are question marks over the fitness of Gautam, who has struggled to make any kind of impact after the first season. Jasvir and Manjeet have had their trysts with knocks and niggles, while Somvir, who emerged as one of the top defenders in Season 2, has since struggled to make the field due to injury.
The Pink Panthers started their pre-season camp in Jaipur on 24 June that is a week or fortnight after most teams have began theirs. Whether it is to protect its senior players from exhaustion or something else is anybody's guess.
If these key men for Jaipur stay fit and are able to perform to the best of their abilities for a big part of the season, Pink Panthers will once again be there or thereabouts. But if injuries sideline some of their main players, they will be nervously hoping some of the young guns develop courage and produce the kind of performances that normally is expected from their star players.
Playing in Zone A, the Pink Panthers will have few games where they could afford to relax even one bit. With U Mumba, Puneri Paltan, Haryana Steelers, Dabang Delhi and Gujarat Fortunegiants competing with them for a place in the play-off, the Jaipur outfit will have to replicate their performances in the first and fourth season.
Over the course of these four years, Jaipur's better moments have come when their senior players have fired on all cylinders and if Season 5 is to be dominated by the team from the 'Pink City', their star players must be kept in the pink of health.
Jaipur Pink Panthers are genuine title contenders, but this statement comes with its set of terms and conditions.
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Updated Date: Jul 27, 2017 21:17:57 IST