On Wednesday evening, Anup Kumar and Abhishek Bachchan sat on the sidelines, trying to get their team, the Jaipur Pink Panthers going, hoping to get an unlikely victory over league leaders Gujarat Fortunegiants. The atmosphere was heavy with expectation. Before the start of play on the day, former India captain Anup had announced retirement from kabaddi.
But there was no victorious farewell for the outgoing captain. Despite a fightback in the second half — they were 13-26 down at one stage — Jaipur just didn't have enough firepower to get past Gujarat, eventually losing 33-31.
It had been that kind of week for hosts Jaipur, at their adopted home Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex in Panchkula, Haryana.
They had gone into the home leg with the slimmest of chances of making it to the playoffs. The rider was: Jaipur had to win all the matches and hope Dabang Delhi didn't win any. But they didn’t quite keep their end of the bargain either: winning only two of the six matches at home. With Anup Kumar gone, Deepak Hooda, their star all-rounder, who seemed to have found his raiding rhythm back in the past couple of weeks, had to pick up the captaincy baton too. Through the season Jaipur have lacked the balance and consistency and it was pretty much the case at home too.
Their only wins came against the Puneri Paltan (36-23) and the Haryana Steelers (39-30), the two teams that had already been eliminated from Zone A.
Four out of the six playoff teams are confirmed. While Gujarat and U Mumba had locked down their spots two weeks ago, Dabang Delhi became the third team to qualify from Zone A. Delhi, who have 63 points from 21 matches, booked a place in the playoffs for the very first time in Pro Kabaddi.
While Zone A is done and dusted, the competition is heating up in Zone B with only one week to go. Only group leaders Bengaluru Bulls (72 points form 20 matches) have ensured entry into the playoffs, leaving four teams to compete for the other two spots.
Patna Pirates are currently second, with 55 points from 20 matches while Telugu Titans are third with 50 points from the same number of games. But neither of them can afford to take it lightly as Bengal Warriors host the last league round from Friday. Bengal have a strong line-up, with raider Maninder Singh spearheading their attack and captain Surjeet Singh marshalling the defence. They are currently only two points behind the Titans but have four more matches in hand.
But the surprise turnaround in the group has come from UP Yoddha. The Rishank Devadiga-led outfit looked done and dusted when they went on a 10-match winless streak. However, they have picked themselves up from the rut and have won three of the last four matches and tied one.
Having settled for a low-scoring 25-25 draw with the eliminated Tamil Thalaivas this week, they sprung a surprise against the Patna Pirates. The UP team came up with an all-round, and possibly their finest performance this season to beat the three-time champions 47-31. Two of their regular raiders — Prashanth Kumar Rai and Shrikanth Jadhav — really sunk their teeth into the Patna defence, returning with 11 and 8 points respectively.
But it was substitute Azad Singh who really ambushed Patna. The 21-year-old, playing his first season in Pro Kabaddi, turned the tables around in the dying seconds of the first half. With UP reduced to one man on the mat and with the score reading 19-17 in their favour, Azad Singh came in for Sagar Krishna. After picking up a bonus point, he evaded a dash from the left and flung himself to safety for a three-point super raid. Azad Singh scored a total of eight raid points in the match.
The real improvement for UP, however, has come in defence. The return of veteran defender Jeeva Kumar has lent them some solidity. While Jeeva made four successful tackles in the match, it was their left corner Sachin Kumar who returned with six tackle points. The duo was successful in keeping the most prolific raider in the league, Pardeep Narwal, quiet. Pardeep, who now has the most raid points in season 6 at 216, managed only two against UP while he had five unsuccessful raids and four empty ones.
The win over Patna not only enabled UP to stay in the playoff hunt but might have just lit a spark in them for the two upcoming matches. With 47 points from 20 matches, they are only three points off the third-placed Titans.
The Bengaluru Bulls confirmed their spot in the playoffs with a 44-28 win over Telugu Titans this week and then held Patna to a 40-40 draw. The Bulls confirmed their reputation as one of the best marauding units in the League, plundering 48 raid points in the two matches. At the forefront was the 22-year-old Pawan Kumar Sehrawat, who now leads the table for the most points scored (221). He earned 21 of them in the two matches in Jaipur while captain Rohit Kumar was a shade better at 23.
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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2018 11:19:58 IST