Pro Kabaddi League 2018: Nitin Tomar’s early-season heroics raise further questions over national team snub
If Nitin Tomar continues his golden streak in Pune and beyond, it will become harder for selectors to ignore him when the panel meets to pick the Indian team for the Kabaddi World Cup next year.
India’s dismal show at the 2018 Asian Games has overshadowed the beginning of the sixth season of Pro Kabaddi League. The narratives of India’s failure to land a single gold medal in kabaddi at the recently-concluded Asiad continue to grab headlines.
A week into the new season, performances from some of the non-Asian Games players have further raised questions on the team selection of the Indian team. In August, the Delhi High Court had termed the selection process of the kabaddi teams for the Asian Games an “eyewash” and ordered a fresh selection process. A trial match between India’s Asian Games team and a group of players selected by new Kabaddi Federation of India was supposed to take place on 15 September in the capital, but all of the Asian Games players gave it a miss.
There was a debate over the non-selection of cover defender Surjeet Singh and left corner defender Surender Nada, but the name of Nitin Tomar had slipped under the radar.
The all-rounder didn’t just help his UP Yoddha side reach the playoffs in their debut season last year, he played a part in guiding Services to the semi-finals of the kabaddi national championships. It was a surprise then, that Tomar wasn’t part of India’s squads for Kabaddi Masters and Asian Games, considering his experience of representing the team in big tournaments such as the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup and 2017 Asian Kabaddi Championship.
Gangadhari Mallesh, who wasn’t in the scheme of things as far as the national team selection is concerned, was picked out of nowhere ahead of several others like Tomar, Maninder Singh and Sachin Tanwar who warranted a place ahead of Mallesh on the basis of their form and performances.
Tomar’s case was the strongest among those who missed out and his performances in the Puneri Paltan shirt so far this season prove that ignoring the 23-year-old was a big mistake.
The Puneri Paltan all-rounder is a cool customer, and has the ability to deliver under pressure. In the 2016 World Cup final against Iran when India were trailing by five points at the interval, it was Tomar’s two-point raid in the second half that shifted the momentum in India’s favour. His crucial raid paved the way for Ajay Thakur to finish off the job and hand India the title.
“Nitin has a very cool head. He is very composed and will never lose sight of his goal. He is not easily affected by the match situation and can deliver the goods when team needs it the most,” Puneri Paltan coach Ashan Kumar told Firstpost.
While Kumar, who coached Korea to a win over India at the Asian Games, refused to comment on Tomar’s national team snub, his assessment of Tomar suggests that the latter was exactly the kind of player India needed in Jakarta, especially in that semi-final against Iran where India were under tremendous pressure.
Tomar didn’t waste his time sulking and decided to iron out the few flaws in his game in the build-up to the new season. Under the guidance of coach Kumar, Tomar appears to be an evolved version of himself this season.
Tomar is second in the charts for most raid points this season, second only to Ajay Thakur, but his average is the best among raiders who have played more than one game this season.
He has scored 51 raid points in four matches at an average of 12.75, and has two super 10s under his belt. He has also been tackled just 10 times in 74 raids this campaign. The Malakpur-born star did quite well in season five as well, finishing as the eighth best raider, but his performances in the first three games suggest he could finish much higher in the charts in 2018.
Coach Kumar’s inputs have been key in Tomar presenting an improved front. “Nitin Tomar is an exceptional player. I found just two weaknesses in his game when I analysed his performances from last season. First thing was speed and second was reaction. So I focused specifically on his speed and hand touch,” the veteran coach revealed.
“He used to get in good positions during his raids, but due to a lack of a quick reaction, he used to either turn or get caught. I told him that after getting into a good raiding position, it was important for him to make the touch. Nitin was able to grasp my instructions very quickly and I am happy with his performance so far,” he added.
Tomar has contributed to 63% of Puneri Paltan’s raid points, and little more than one-third of their total points. Paltan, known for their strong defence, have lost just one game so far despite their defence making more errors than usual. It’s Tomar’s heroics that has seen them take the pole position in the table.
Apart from enhanced skill-sets, Tomar is one of the fitter players in the league. Playing for Services, Tomar has acquired a self-discipline that helps him remain in shape even during off-season.
“Nitin’s fitness is good. He works wholeheartedly on his body. He is someone who will accomplish the target that is set for him. He is someone who will work on his fitness separately, on his own. Nitin is a very dedicated player, he takes in all the feedback and works on it. As a coach, you don’t have to worry too much about him,” the Puneri Paltan gaffer declared.
Tomar will be crucial for Puneri Paltan as they enter their home leg. In the new three-month format, only two teams have a positive win-loss ratio on their home patch. That trend seems to have continued this season with Tamil Thalaivas losing four of their five home games in Chennai and Haryana Steelers already losing two out of their three matches in Sonipat.
A good show in the home leg goes a long way in pushing a team towards the playoffs. If Nitin Tomar continues his golden streak in Pune and beyond, it will become harder for selectors to ignore him when the panel meets to pick the Indian team for the Kabaddi World Cup next year.
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