Even though they went out with a valiant 37-37 tie against the Bengal Warriors, it was yet another forgettable season for the Telugu Titans. Placed fifth in the six-team Zone B, the Titans managed only seven wins in their 22 matches while losing 12.
By Friday, the last group match, the qualification bracket was already beyond them. They did earn some consolation points against Warriors, in their third tie of the season, but finished at 52 points, eight off the third-placed team in their group, the Uttar Pradesh Yoddhas.
Though they started the season with a win, they quickly went on the slippery slide down. This Pro Kabaddi season opened at their home ground – the Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad. But rather than it giving Titans a head-start, they were engulfed in doubt as they lost five of the six home matches.
They never managed to recover from the early losses, and the string of inconsistent performances made up for a season that was far from ideal.
What went wrong?
It was the lack of a team effort that was the Telugu Titans’ undoing. Throughout the season they lacked coordination in the lineup as the young squad struggled to gel. Instead the team was pulled on mainly through pieces of individual brilliance.
In the first season of PKL, Rahul Chaudhari had emerged as the star raider and quickly went on to become the face of the League. He continued in that vein, using his speed and smarts to torment defenders. The 24-year-old picked up 184 raid points along with nine tackle points in the 22 matches – putting him fourth in the leaderboard for most points earned by a single player.
But Chaudhuri, who has worn the captain’s armband for the past four years, was a lone ranger in a rather dysfunctional team. The Titans’ next best raider, Nilesh Salunke could manage only 91 raid points.
Meanwhile, on the defensive front, there was the skill and daring of Vishal Bharadwaj earned him 71 tackle points – the third best defender in the season. Whereas the more seasoned Rohit Rana, who was pipped to be the team’s defensive spearhead, managed a weak 24 tackles – just over an average of one tackle point per game.
The want-away captain
For all of Chaudhuri’s skills as a raider, he hasn’t quite been a leader of men. At the same time, he hasn’t enjoyed it either.
The role of the skipper requires a player to ensure he gets as much time on the mat to marshall the troops in each situation. This need, however, clashes with the role Chaudhari plays in the team as their leading raider. Always the first to enter a raid, and the one to walk into the opposition half for a crucial bout against defenders, there is always the risk that Chaudhari can get caught and sent to the bench.
The 24-year-old himself prefers being in the thick of the action rather than delegating duty.
In Rakesh Kumar, however, the Titans did have a player with exemplary leadership skills – after all, he had led the national team to two Asian Games gold medals. Yet Kumar, now 35, has been struggling with both form and injuries. A back strain bogged him down for a majority of the season, and he ended up playing just 10 matches.
Instead, Chaudhari was left to guide a young and inexperienced team.
Vishal Bharadwaj had featured in the fourth season of the PKL as well, but managed to play just two matches. This time around, he became the most prominent defender on the Titans’ half. Just 20 and brimming with confidence to tackle the most popular of raiders, he didn’t shy from a challenge.
He was the silver lining in a gloomy season for the Titans. Strong and willing to take on the responsibility, the youngster got on with the job even though the team’s challenge was usually crumbling around him.
In past seasons, one criticism of the Titans has been their tendency of filling the team with raiders but ignoring their defence. Bharadwaj’s discovery bucked that trend.
What needs to improve?
The Titans have a team buzzing with energy – a credit to the youthful lineup. But they lack the tempering of a good leader.
It’s a mantra that has been crucial in the success of PKL winning team. The best example is U Mumba skipper Anup Kumar. The veteran isn’t a chart-topper when it comes to scoring points. Instead, he’s a master tactician who analysis the game while on the mat, assigns tasks based on situations and knows how to get the best out of his teammates.
The Patna Pirates team of season three had scouted and brought out of retirement 2002 Asian Games winner Manpreet Singh to serve as captain. Post the team’s title winning run, Manpreet himself mentioned that his task was ‘not to score points, but to guide the players while on the mat.’
The Titans, who in five seasons have never made the finals, needs to start looking at building a strong unit and instilling a strong team ethic rather than banking on individuals.
Updated Date: Oct 21, 2017 15:21 PM