U Mumba, the Pro Kabaddi franchise owned by Unilazer Sports has been at the forefront of the kabaddi revolution in India. Apart from dominating the league with an overall win percentage of 69.35 that helped them reach three out of four finals, the Mumbai outfit's popularity has spread far beyond the financial capital of the country and no other team can match them in that aspect.
Led by the inimitable Anup Kumar, U Mumba assembled a winning machine in the first three seasons of the PKL, with its players performing at the peak of their powers. They were hailed as the 'Dream Team' by many after they won 14 out of 16 matches on their way to the title in season two, setting many records on the way.
U Mumba though had to endure the heartache of losing two finals in the first and third season, but thanks to their overall consistency, they were perceived to be the best in the league. It was only in the fourth season, due to the loss of key players like Mohit Chhillar, Surender Nada and Fazel Atrachali in the auctions, that their combination was disrupted and they failed to make the playoff for the first time.
"The team we had in the first three seasons was the strongest team in the league. I feel it is the strongest team any one can ever form. We had top players for all positions, but the chemistry with which the team played was phenomenal. We knew it was going to be almost impossible to recreate that team," Bhaskaran Edachery, the U Mumba head coach since season two told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
After the debacle in season four, U Mumba got a swift rebuilding opportunity as the entry of four new teams led to another auction before season five. The Mumbai outfit still had a plethora of stars from whom to choose the player they wanted to retain, but they couldn't look beyond captain Anup, the man who had been the heartbeat of the side thus far.
"Anup leads the team exceedingly well. Other than that, he has also been a great raider through the seasons which is an added advantage for us. His nickname, Captain Cool, also describes how well he copes with pressure and is calm and collective in even the most stressful of situations on the mat. That's his greatest quality," Bhaskaran reasoned.
U Mumba had a pretty good auction. The acquisitions of Kashiling Adake, Shabeer Bapu and Nitin Madane meant the Mumbai outfit were able to re-establish the lost strength in the raiding department that had the likes of Rishank Devadiga and Rakesh Kumar in the previous seasons.
In the defence though, U Mumba don't appear to have the same kind of might. Joginder Narwal, D Suresh Kumar, Kuldeep Singh and Hadi Oshtorak are fine defenders, but they either have a history of injuries and or have been too inconsistent in the past. In a season spanning across three months, inconsistency and injuries could hurt a team's chances.
"No team in the league this season is complete. There are weaknesses in all the teams. There aren't enough defenders for specialised roles available and keeping that in mind, I feel we have an excellent team. It takes time for the defence to combine and gel well together, and if we have raiders who can score points continuously then it takes the pressure off the defenders who can settle into their rhythm," the U Mumba coach said.
The way young raiders like Devadiga excelled under Anup, Bhaskaran would be hoping the same is the case with Adake, who holds the record for scoring most raid points in a single match (24). The Sangli, Maharashtra-born raider is an imposing figure, and when on song is simply unstoppable. U Mumba's success this season will largely depend on how much the coach and Anup are able to get out of their priced acquisition Adake who had a rather quiet season three and four, and will be looking to significantly add to his 380 raid points so far.
"Our team has some of the best raiders the sport has ever seen. While Shabeer (Bapu) and Nitin (Mandane) are both left raiders, Anup (Kumar) and I are right raiders – keeping all options covered. If the opponent's right defence is strong, we will raid on the left and vice versa. I feel this combination of having strong left and right raiders in the team will be an advantage," said the raider from Sangli.
U Mumba have been training away from their home city, in Dehradun. The cooler weather of the region will put lesser strain on the bodies of the players who will go into the season fully fresh. In the month-long camp, the chief focus has been on upping the fitness levels of the team. The team hasn't appointed a specialist fitness coach, and will rely on the experience of coach Bhaskaran.
— U Mumba (@U_Mumba) June 24, 2017
The Mumbai side is part of Zone B that has strong teams like Jaipur Pink Panthers, Puneri Paltan and Haryana Steelers, So they won't have a free run to the playoff. However, coach Bhaskaran is relying on the spirit that the franchise have displayed over the years that helped them produce champions players.
"If you look at our former players, they are the leading players in all the teams now. They are there because of their performances in U Mumba. We have the ability to produce champion players and champion teams. Even if we don't have the same set of players now, I believe we have the spirit to make another top side from the players we have," asserted coach Bhaskaran.
The one thing common between the successful U Mumba teams of the past and that now is captain Anup and it is his presence, which will further boost his belief of restoring U Mumba to the pinnacle of the competition yet again.
"Anup has led the team ever since U Mumba came into existence. He has a very different reputation among the teams and players – he is an iconic figure in international kabaddi now. Having a captain like him is very important, especially when the players keep changing due to auctions. Given his experience, he plays a key role in grooming the youngsters in our side as well," the coach said.
U Mumba with their new team once again have an intimidating feel about them, after a minor blip last season, and are ready to return among the elite. Backed with a die-hard fan base, and fuelled by an inspirational leader, the champions of season two are ready to unleash another generation of winners on the league. Watch out!
Updated Date: Jul 26, 2017 20:11:42 IST