Pro Kabaddi League 2018: Patna Pirates' bid for fourth straight title hinges on finding able ally for Pardeep Narwal
Patna Pirates have rarely started a season as top favourites, but their ability to unearth talent has made the difference for them
Patna Pirates go again! Their incredible reign as defending champions of Pro Kabaddi is set to enter another intriguing chapter, a third one to be precise. In these three years, players have come and gone, coaches have been moved on, but Pirates have managed to find a winning formula.
Patna's time at the pinnacle of the competition coincided with the arrival of a young, sprightly raider that took the league by storm in a matter of weeks and never looked back again. Three years hence, Pardeep Narwal – now a household name in the sport – is inching ever closer to becoming the league's most successful raider and has been the magical element in Patna's success that no team in the league has come to terms with.
As the sixth edition of the Pro Kabaddi nears its beginning, there are few question marks over the Patna squad once again. However, the men in green have shown it way too often already that they can carry their faults all the way till the finishing line. They have Pardeep, and that's always been enough.
Apart from Pardeep, the defending champions have also retained the services of coach Ram Mehar Singh who will look to become the first coach to win back-to-back PKL titles.
Auction Purchases and Team combination
Patna were among the two teams to retain four players before the auctions. Captain Pardeep, corner defenders Jaideep, Jawahar Dagar and cover defender Manish were all signed up before the auctions. Raider Vikas Jaglan, all-rounder Vijay were re-signed in the auctions as the defending champions tried to reproduce the squad from last season.
However, there were quite a few big names that Patna couldn't re-acquire. Monu Goyat was the most significant one to exit. He went to Haryana Steelers for a whopping fee of Rs 1.51 crore. Vishal Mane and Sachin Shingade were also allowed to go. Dealing with the loss of the experience of Mane and Shingade was key for Patna but captain Pardeep believes despite the bis exits, he has a stronger team to lead compared to last season.
"I personally feel we have a stronger team than the previous season. That team was obviously good as we won the title, but this year our defence is more solid," Pardeep told Firstpost at the unveiling ceremony of Pro Kabaddi trophy in Chennai.
"Monu (Goyat) was a very important player for us, but we have many raiders ready to step up and take his position. Watch out for some young raiders to surprise you," an unusually confident and vocal Pardeep added.
Deepak Narwal who played a part in Bengal Warriors' run to the playoffs in 2017 has the responsibility to fill the void left by the departure of Goyat. Surender Singh, Tushar Patil who's a do-or-die specialist and Vikas Jaglan will all try to formulate an able support system for the star man Pardeep.
For all his heroics, the wily raider from Sonipat has always had a good raiding support from the other end in his three seasons at Patna. In season three, there was Rohit Kumar, a season later Pardeep had Rajesh Mondal for the company and last year there was Goyat.
The role of the supporting cast thus cannot be undermined and the Pirates will hope their new battery of raiders are able to reduce pressure on Pardeep's shoulders. The use of Patil as a do-or-die raider will be key. If he can perform well in third raids, the chances of Pardeep staying on court for a long time increases and Patna are sure to benefit from it.
Patna's defence was leaky last season. They gave away too many easy points to the opponents. The Pardeep-Monu partnership bailed them out on most occasions, but sorting out the defence was a priority for Ram Mehar Singh. The Jawahar-Jaideep corner combination that rose to prominence at the business end of last season will look to begin from where they had left off. The addition of Kuldeep Singh will strengthen the right side of the defence. With able deputies like Vikas Kale and all-rounder Vijay in the reserve, Patna have a good balance to their squad.
Preparation and Training
Patna's preparation took a hit with coach Singh's involvement in the recently-concluded Asian Games. The Pirates, unlike other sides, were afforded the time to host only a single camp. During the month-long camp in Greater Noida, the Pirates had two three-hour sessions per day. The morning one was used to pump the fitness levels while the evening was all about developing strategy and building a combination and understanding among the players.
The relative lack of preparation could hamper the Pirates early on with a tough opening encounter against Tamil Thalaivas on the horizon. But the defending champions as they have proved time and again, are a team for the long haul.
Can Pirates make it four in a row?
Patna have rarely started a season as top favourites, but their ability to unearth talent has made the difference for them. Even when Rakesh Kumar left the franchise midway through the second season, they found a hero in Sandeep Narwal who carried them into the playoffs. In the third season, it was Rohit and Pardeep, in the fourth they had Girish Ernak and in the fifth, it was Monu Goyat, Jaideep and Manish.
It will be interesting to see if they are able to carry forward the tradition in season six as it will be crucial to their chances.
"We have a raider called Manjit. He is a young player and has never played PKL before. I think he will be among the best players. I think he has a very good ability and has been playing very well during the practice sessions," Pardeep revealed.
At the end of the day though, it will all come down to Pardeep Narwal. His superlative performances have been so frequent in the league, that it's almost been taken for granted. Patna Pirates conceded the most number of points (921) in the league last season. But such was Pardeep's brilliance that his 369 raid points which was 150 points more than the second-best raider carried the Pirates through despite a struggling defence.
On Friday as Pardeep Narwal unveiled the trophy that he has held for three years, there was a spring in his steps. After three years of successfully defending the trophy and once as captain, Pardeep portrayed the confidence that a fourth successive triumph can be expected.
"I have learnt so much in these three years. I have also been a captain. I am much more confident now than what I was a year ago. As you must have noticed, my public speaking has improved. I feel confident now," the Patna Pirates captain admitted.
As far as the raiding part is concerned, Pardeep does it better than most. As he ended his speech at the trophy unveiling ceremony, he quietly dropped a warning. "I will obviously use the dupki, but I have learned more tricks this season, you will see it when season starts." he said before signing off.
Pardeep Narwal holds all the aces for Patna Pirates, but a more balanced squad compared to last season means they will once again be there or thereabouts.
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