After 12-weeks of action and 135 matches, Pro Kabaddi League 2017 got its first finalist. A team that made their debut this season and relied more on teamwork rather than individual glory—Gujarat Fortunegiants
In the first match on Tuesday at the NSCI Stadium, Mumbai, the Fortunegiants squared off against the Zone B table-toppers Bengal Warriors for a direct entry into the finals to be held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium, Chennai.
Though the rise of Fortunegiants in their debut season got everyone rooting for the team that came out of nowhere and settled itself right in the centre of the spotlight, one of the major takeaways from this season would be the change in fortunes for the Bengal Warriors.
The Warriors were brushing off ghosts of the past seasons, where they finished in the bottom half of the table more often than not, by finishing right on top of the pile this time. No one expected the Warriors to play the way they did and they managed to surprise their harshest critics time and again.
The last time these two teams met each other was in Ahmedabad, the home of the Fortunegiants, and the match ended in a tie. Bengal Warriors were the only team that could return from Ahmedabad with their heads held high as it was the only match the Fortunegiants failed to win.
However, on Tuesday, no such thing happened as Gujarat Fortunegiants exposed Bengal Warriors' weaknesses and capitalised on every little chance. They dominated proceedings right from the first whistle.
The fact that Bengal Warriors could score just one point in the last eight minutes of the game was a reflection of how tight the Fortunegiants conducted Tuesday's proceedings.
There was little separating both these teams in the first half as Gujarat had just a three-point lead with the scores at 13-10 at half-time.
The next 20 minutes saw Fortunegiants grow from strength to strength as Bengal Warriors became a pale shadow of their former self.
The final whistle went when the score was at 42-17 in favour of the Fortunegiants and they became the first team to book a spot in the finals where they would face the winner of the 2nd qualifier.
The second match of the day, the third eliminator, between Puneri Paltan and Patna Pirates was to decide which team would face Bengal Warriors in the 2nd qualifier on 26 October in Chennai.
The eliminator began with the Paltan defence neutralising Pirates' star raider Pardeep Narwal in his very first raid. Though it was the Pune team that scored the first points, Narwal was back and started scoring at will to take the lead and in the ninth minute of play handed Pune an all-out to go 10-6 up.
Back on the mat, Paltan played with a lot more aggression and Deepak Hooda led from the front to get one raid point after the other and reduce the points deficit.
With five minutes to go in the first half, Paltan levelled the scores and refused to take the foot off the pedal as they raced to a seven-point lead at half-time with the score reading 20-13.
The second half began with numerous empty raids, with both teams waiting for scoring opportunities in the do-or-die raids. After five minutes of play the scores ticked over for both teams, but the Paltan gradually started to consolidate the lead.
With nine minutes left and a trail of 10 points, it was time for Pardeep Narwal to conjure up some magic as he always does if the defending champions had to travel to Chennai.
A heavily contested Deepak Hooda raid that went in favour of the Patna Pirates unsettled the Puneri captain who looked demoralised after a decision he termed to be completely wrong.
Monu Goyat scored two points for the Pirates and then Narwal returned to the mat and proved why he is one of the greatest escape artists in Pro Kabaddi as he returned from a raid with four Paltan players trying to hold him down, clinching four important points.
With momentum on their side, it was the Narwal show once again as his team's defence had a new-found aggression to deliver. Narwal, with his raiding prowess won 14 out of the next 17 points in the remaining six minutes to book their flight to Chennai where they would face Bengal Warriors for a shot at winning a hat-trick of titles.
While there was enough action on the mat during both matches to make the competition worthwhile, a lot more action was yet to come.
After their match against Bengal Warriors, Fortunegiants coach Manpreet Singh's statement in the post-match press conference could have set the tone for a hostile final if Patna Pirates cross the next barrier.
Manpreet, a former Patna Pirates player, said, "We have been in extremely good form and have played with high levels of confidence. We have not let Pardeep score much against us in our matches against Patna. We would like to play Patna Pirates in the finals because it will be easier for us to beat them to win the title."
After the third eliminator, Deepak Hooda, who seemed visibly dejected with the refereeing, lamented their bad luck as even a body touch didn't show on the review. He added that this was the moment that took the game away from them.
If this open criticism against the League's refereeing wasn't controversial enough, Patna Pirates' coach Ram Mehar Singh was asked to react to Manpreet's statement.
Mehar Singh minced no words in expressing his disgust over such irresponsible statements from a coach and rebuked his cockiness by referring to the fact that Pirates were two-time champions.
"In all these years, we have not said anything derogatory about any other team. We prefer to let our actions on the mat speak for us."
Talking about how things in Kabaddi can change rapidly, he referred to the previous season where the Pirates defeated Jaipur Pink Panthers in the finals to win the title even after losing to them twice in the group stages.
Though Mehar Singh tore into the lack of civility on Manpreet's part to give out such irresponsible statements, he ended his outburst soon after and said, "Nonetheless, I will have to thank Manpreet for wishing us to reach the final and we hope to do the same with the goodwill of our fans and blessings of God."
Patna Pirates seem to have added a personal vendetta to their list of reasons to win the title for the third time. However, the Patna Pirates have to go past an aggressive Bengal Warriors, who have been rock-solid throughout the season.
As for Fortunegiants, they shouldn't be too distracted by which opponent they will play in the final. They have had a brilliant run so far and should concentrate on what they have been doing right. A title on debut would be a dream result.
Updated Date: Oct 26, 2017 09:14 AM