Pro Kabaddi League 2018: Gujarat Fortunegiants dominate at home; young raiders like Pawan Kumar Sehrawat make waves

“Kabaddi is a game of confidence,” former India captain Rakesh Kumar said in Mumbai last week. “If you second guess yourself, you won’t be able to perform.”

Action form a match between Gujarat Fortunegiants and U Mumba. Image courtesy: Pro Kabaddi League

Action form a match between Gujarat Fortunegiants and U Mumba. Image courtesy: Pro Kabaddi League

And they don’t get more bullish than the Gujarat Fortunegiants at home. In only their second year in Pro Kabaddi League, the Ahmedabad-based franchise has continued to dominate at The Arena by Transstadia, losing only one match so far at the venue. They completed the most successful home leg in Season 6 of Pro Kabaddi League, winning four matches and holding Bengaluru Bulls to a 30-30 draw. Their surprise 29-26 defeat to Dabang Delhi on Tuesday halted their run of nine unbeaten games in a row.

Despite there being no superstars in the team, Gujarat has emerged at the top of the competitive Zone A. With 58 points from 14 matches, they are a cut above U Mumba (57 points from 15 matches) in the group and have the best winning percentage in the League. Their team ethic once again shone through, and Gujarat won seemingly difficult challenges at their home ground this week.

“Gujarat Fortunegiants play a different brand of kabaddi that has made us very successful and we would like to continue playing that way,” coach Manpreet Singh. “Our defence has been getting us points in almost every game. They have shown they are very versatile and can play in positions other than their specialised ones as well.”

The Gujarat franchise had let go of Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mighani, who manned the left and right corners respectively, this season. Though the Iranian duo was a major part of their success story in 2017, the team has filled in the voids seamlessly. In former India international Manpreet, who was the captain when Patna Pirates won the first of their three titles in January 2016, they have a coach who is strategically sound and knows how to get the best out of the players. On the mat, its captain Sunil Kumar and Parvesh Bhainswal, who marshal the defence, are one of the most effective cover combinations in the PKL.

Bhainswal was instrumental in Gujarat holding on to their unbeaten record against U Mumba, despite trailing by 10 points at one stage, this week. The 21-year-old, the best left-cover in the league, scored two successive Super Tackles and added yet another tackle point to the home team’s tally as they closed the gap on Mumbai.

Sound in defence, Gujarat Fortunegiants also have a striking raiding trio in Sachin, K Prapanjan and Mahender Rajput. Even as Sachin, the find of last season, has continued with his scoring streak, Prapanjan stepped up his game in the home leg. He was Gujarat’s most successful raider in the tense encounter against U Mumba, scoring 10 raid points as the home team won 39-35. The raider also returned with a haul of nine raid points during Gujarat’s 35-23 win over Bengal on the opening night.

Gujarat’s ascendancy in Zone A has clashed with the decline of Puneri Paltan. In the absence of their lead raider Nitin Tomar, the Pune franchise has continued to slip down the leaderboard. Their 22-26 defeat to Bengal during the week was their third straight loss. The Girish Ernak-led side has won only one in the last seven matches, placing them a distant third (39 points from 15 matches) in the group.

While Jaipur Pink Panthers are yet to hit top gear in the League, they would take heart from Deepak Hooda’s form. The all-rounder, who was signed on for Rs 1.15 crore, had been struggling to find a balance between his raiding and defence duties early on. But he seems to have found his rhythm in offence, scoring Super 10s in his last three matches. In Ahmedabad, he scored 10 raid points as Jaipur beat a beleaguered UP Yoddha 45-28 and followed it up with 11 points in a losing effort against the Bengaluru Bulls.

Young raiders have made quite an impact this season. And while Siddharth Desai is still the most prolific with 144 raid points, 22-year-old Pawan Kumar Sehrawat is quickly closing the gap. Even Dabang Delhi’s NYP (New young player) Naveen played a vital role in handing Gujarat their first, and only, defeat at home so far.

The pacy Sehrawat, who was outrageously likened to Usain Bolt by Bengaluru coach BC Ramesh this week, has tormented defenders through the season and wrecked Jaipur’s anxious defence on Sunday. He plundered 19 raid points against them, paving a way for a big 45-32 win over the season 1 champions. Sehrawat now has the League high of 12.4 raid points pre match and has taken his team to the top of Zone B. With 40 points from 10 matches, Bengaluru are just ahead of three-time defending champions Patna Pirates (38 from 13 matches) and perfectly placed to begin their home leg on Friday.

Though Dabang Delhi has relied more on their defence this season, young raider Naveen is soon making his presence felt on the match. Though he isn’t scoring as heavily as Desai or Sehrawat, he has played a few cameos. During the match against Gujarat, Naveen stepped in the last minute to seal victory for Delhi. The hosts had fought back to level the match 26-26 and reduce Delhi to three men. With less than a minute left on the clock, Naveen went in for a do-or-die raid. He snuck in a bonus point and then made a successful Super Tackle on Sachin to swing the match decisively in his team’s favour.

The close defeat against Delhi was perhaps the only blemish on Gujarat’s near-perfect home record.

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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 15:08:00 IST