Dabang Delhi, like their cricketing counterpart Delhi Daredevils from the Indian Premier League (IPL), have found themselves at the wrong end of the results, and eventually, the all-important points table in the four seasons of the Pro Kabaddi League.
Dabang Delhi are the only team in the PKL to have never reached the play-offs. Their campaigns, some of which have showed signs of promise, have always ended in disaster.
6, 7, 8, 7. These were the positions at which Delhi have finished in the past four seasons. In an eight-team competition that the PKL was, it made for a dismal reading. The Eagles, as they like to call themselves, could barely fly, leave aside flying high.
Dabang Delhi had their share of match-winners, be it Surjeet Singh in the first season, Ravinder Pahal in the second, Kashiling Adake in the second and third and Meraj Sheykh in the fourth, but they didn't have a team that could make these heroics count.
Going into the new expanded tournament under new stewardship, Dabang Delhi look to right all the wrongs of the previous seasons.
Having acquired the services of Ramesh Bhendigiri as head coach, Dabang Delhi have opted for method over madness. A respected figure in the sport, Bhendigiri is the only coach to have a Ph.D in kabaddi. The former Telugu Titans coach comes with plenty of expertise and a wealth of experience.
While retaining his former pupil Sheykh was a no-brainer, Bhendigiri planned to pack the side with a bunch of talented youngsters, mostly from his home state of Maharashtra, and the ones he knew quite well. His team have scouted and spotted young players from various local and national-level tournaments, and bought them during the auctions.
"We had been planning for the auctions for over a month before it. I had watched many matches during the off-season and shortlisted players to pick at the auctions. Even for more experienced players, we had a back-up option ready if we failed to buy our targets. We knew exactly who would bid for which player and planned our strategy accordingly," Bhendigiri told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
Delhi though made sure the pressure of leading and guiding the youngsters didn't fall only on Sheykh's shoulders alone. The Eagles bought former Bengal Warriors captain Nilesh Shinde for a bargain price of Rs 35.5 lakh, his teammate Bajirao Hodage, Patna Pirates' corner defender Sunil for fairly low sums to add experience to the side.
The Shinde-Hodage partnership had run riot for Bengal Warriors in season three, and their reunion in Dabang Delhi colours gives the defence a really solid look.
"Our defence is very strong. Meraj, Sunil, Bajirao and I have all played in the league before and we know how to deal with the pressure. So that's our strong point. But if you look at some of the younger defenders like Viraj Langde (and) Satpal, they are really talented. So we have a team in which players could come in for us (and) can deliver the same level of performance," Nilesh told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
Coach Bhendigiri though is more excited by some of the young raiders in his squad, who he feels can even better some of the best raiders in the league.
"We have a raider named Anand Patil. He was awarded the best raider in the Industrial National Championship. All the top raiders from PKL, like Nitin Tomar, Rakesh Lumar play in that competition. He beat all of them to win the best raider (title) there. His performance in that tournament was exceptional and I'm confident he is going to do the same in PKL," Bhendigiri, who guided the women's kabaddi team to World Cup glory in 2012, revealed.
"Nobody has seen most of our raiders as they haven't played in the league before. I think that's an advantage for us as they are extremely talented. Shubham Palkar is a raider from Nagpur who has been particularly impressive in the camp. I expect big things from him this season. He has a bright future ahead," stated Shinde.
However, the raiding department is expected to be led by former Telugu Titans star Rohit Baliyan, ex-Bengal Warriors raider Ravi Dalal and Suraj Desai, along with the Iranian duo of Sheykh and Abolfazel Maghsodlo who were expected to join the team on 22 July.
With Dabang Delhi's dependence on youngsters in certain key areas, coach Bhendigiri has left no stone unturned in getting them ready for the action.
"In the last few days, as the season has drawn closer, we changed our timings. We now practise at the same time as the matches in PKL and have tried to replicate the atmosphere in the stadium in our practice hall. We use crowd noises, play the league anthem, our own anthem just to make these young players get used to the whole atmosphere. I feel it's very critical as I have seen top players falter under the light and glitz at the PKL stadium," revealed Bhendigiri, who had coached Thailand earlier.
— #DilSeDabang (@DabangDelhiKC) July 19, 2017
Dabang Delhi have been in the camp since 25 June at Gurgaon's BML Munjal University campus, and spent the first 10 days building up fitness. Muscle strengthening, endurance training, and various other regimes in which coach Bhendigiri holds special expertise were carried out in those 10 days.
Since then, the team has introduced a video analysis session, just to analyse the playing styles of key players from the opponents and their own strengths and weaknesses.
"I used video technology at Telugu Titans too and I'm doing the same here. We have studied all the major players from all the teams and have a plan in place for each one of them. We are also recording our own practice matches to assess where we are doing well and where we need to improve," Bhendigiri said.
The use of video analysis could be especially useful under the new format in which every team will face those from their zones thrice. It's thus important to study those teams in extra detail.
Dabang Delhi find themselves in Zone A comprising strong teams like U Mumba, Jaipur Pink Panthers, Puneri Paltan, Haryana Steelers and Gujarat Fortunegiants. While the competition is stiff, Dabang Delhi will rely on their youngsters to step up and make the difference.
Playing their home games at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex in New Delhi, some of the youngsters could attract some real fan following.
With another season of PKL approaching, not many are giving Dabang Delhi a chance to lift the title. But with a handful of top, experienced players leading a bunch of unknown, yet able youngsters, Dabang Delhi could surprise a few.
If Delhi break the hoodoo and reach the play-offs, this youthful and well-drilled team will have the honour of being the first Dabang Delhi side to do so. That may even push them to have a shot at the title.
Probable starting line-up
Right corner: Nilesh Shinde, Right in: Ravi Dalal, Right cover: Bajirao Hodage, Centre: Rohit Baliyan, Left cover: Viraj Langde, Left in: Suraj Desai, Left corner: Meraj Sheykh.
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Updated Date: Jul 23, 2017 15:51:17 IST