Bengal Warriors, the team owned by the Future Group, have barely managed to make waves in four seasons of Pro Kabaddi League. Apart from season three, when they managed to reach the semi-finals, Bengal Warriors have lingered around around the league's basement.
The Warriors' side which finished sixth, seventh and eighth in the other three seasons have few things in common. Over-reliance on certain key players is one of it. However, the second factor has been the true Achilles Heel for the Warriors, not to mention that it also played a part in derailing their most successful campaign. Injuries!
A look at the revamped side that the Warriors have going into the new season, will again struggle to excite the fans. Barring a handful marquee names, few others stand out. So when it comes to putting your money on a team, Bengal Warriors won't be the most popular choice.
However, this might not necessarily mean that another meek surrender is on the cards for the Warriors this campaign.
"We have worked very hard before this season. I don't think many teams would have worked as hard as us. We were the first to start our camp and since then we have hardly relaxed," Surjeet Narwal, the new captain of a different-looking Warriors side, told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
The Warriors began pre-season training from 7 June, which is about 10 to 15 days prior to when most teams have started their preparations.
Plagued with injuries to star raider Jang Kun Lee at several points during the four seasons, the Warriors have suffered due to the absences. Most glaringly, they faded away despite having a strong team in season three after several key defenders and star raider Nitin Tomar were left nursing injuries on the sidelines. By the semi-finals, the patched-up Warriors side looked like a shadow of the team that won seven matches on the trot at the start of the campaign.
Starting afresh under new coach Jagdeesh Kumble, the Warriors have been keen to put that issue to bed. A longer season has further urged them to address the injury woes the team have suffered season after season. That urge has reflected in not just their training sessions, but also in their purchases during the auction.
"Before the auctions, we thought extensively about the requirements of the new format. It was clear to us from the team's past experiences that we needed a squad that can stay fit for the entire three months. So we prioritised players with a good history of fitness, and those who have stayed away from injuries," coach Jagdeesh told Firstpost during an exclusive chat.
"So to match those player requirements, we opted to go for younger players. But we also wanted to balance the team, so we handpicked young players with a bit of experience of playing in the league," he added.
The Warriors re-signed Ravindra Kumawat, a youngster who had shown plenty of promise in the previous season for the Kolkata outfit, along with youngsters like all-rounder Shrikant Tewthia, raiders Deepak Narwal and Maninder Singh.
The trio has prior experience of playing in the league while making noteworthy performances. Maninder especially could be a trump card for the Warriors, having played in the opening season of the league for eventual champions Jaipur Pink Panthers. He was the third-best raider, behind only Anup Kumar and Rahul Chaudhari, with 130 raid points.
Having missed the next three seasons due to a personal problem, the 27-year-old raider will be keen to rise to those heights once again.
The Warriors will heavily depend on Jang Kun Lee to get them raid points, and after a fine showing at last year's Kabaddi World Cup, his confidence will be even higher. In defence, captain Surjeet Singh, who played a key role in India's World Cup win, will hold the aces. He will be ably supported by the veteran Ran Singh from the corner position.
However, it will be in the other defensive positions where the Warriors appear a bit lightweight and will rely on their younger talent to perform consistently.
Camped in Tollygunge in Kolkata, the Warriors spent almost a month working predominantly on the fitness levels of players. Strength and speed training formulated a big part of their daily routine. A team of physios, trainers made sure major injuries were avoided, and minor ones were dealt with.
— Bengal Warriors (@BengalWarriors) June 14, 2017
"To start off we had bought players who were quite fit. But we wanted to get their fitness levels to almost hundred percent before we started working out our team combinations. In such a long season, high fitness levels will hold the key," the coach said.
Warriors, who don't have many senior players, will rely on those few in their ranks to control proceedings on the mat. Coach Jagdeesh has thus named Surjeet as his captain, not just due to his experience, but also thanks to his all-round abilities.
"It is always better if you have an all-rounder as a captain. He understands the dynamics of both skills equally well, and that benefits the team. Surjeet though will largely be playing the role of a defender in our side and defenders get a lot more time to analyse the game than raiders," the coach reasoned.
Part of Zone B, the Warriors are in the more open of the two zones. So if key men like Jang or Surjeet click, the Warriors could have a real shot at the play-off spots, if not more.
"Looking at our preparations and the performances of our players on the mat during the training, I can promise that no team will have it easy against us," coach Jagdeesh, an Asian Games gold medallist, stated.
The captain though is not setting short targets. He wants his side to become the first Bengal Warriors team to reach the final. "Our team has never reached the final before, so it is our common aim to carry the team to the final and lift the title," Surjeet said.
Unfancied Bengal Warriors lack the star power to convince the world of their title-winning credentials, but their enhanced fitness levels could see them outdo opponents far more mightier than them.
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Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 15:26:21 IST