The absence of a kabaddi team from Haryana was always felt in the initial years of the Pro Kabaddi League. A large number of players playing in the league hailed from the north-Indian state, so the idea of a team from the sport's bastion was always met with open arms.
Eventually, in the fifth season when PKL expanded to 12 teams, Haryana got its due, and also a kabaddi team of their own. Coached by Rambir Singh Khokhar, a well-balanced Haryana Steelers side gave a good account of themselves on debut. Even though their run to the playoffs was brought to a screeching halt by a devastating Pardeep Narwal, who scored a record 34 points to inflict a humiliating 69-30 loss on the Steelers, reaching the playoffs in their first season was a satisfactory return for the Surender-Nada led team.
But where do the Steelers go from here? The only acceptable way is the way up.
Auction purchases and team combination
Haryana Steelers grabbed all the headlines as they bought Monu Goyat for a record-shattering fee of Rs 1.51 crore. The Patna Pirates star who had excelled in the shadow of Pardeep surprisingly became the most expensive kabaddi player ever.
Apart from Goyat, the Sonipat-based outfit did extremely well to regain the services of captain Surender Nada, and raiders Wazir Singh and Vikash Khandola who were among the top performers last season. Nada was the top scoring defender with 80 tackle points. Wazir meanwhile had 104 raid points to his name.
In defence, cover defender Sachin Shingade was the only marquee purchase as the team management decided to keep faith in youngsters to do the job.
Kuldeep Singh was the only player to be retained, but the Steelers managed to re-sign quite a few of their young players from last season. Raider Neeraj Kumar, right corner defender Vikas and all-rounder Mayur Shivtarkar all returned to the fold.
The raiding combination of Goyat, Wazir and Khandola looks very promising for the Steelers, but the their corner combination of Nada and Mohit Chhillar is broken after the latter was picked by Jaipur Pink Panthers in the auction.
Regarded as the best corner combination in Indian kabaddi, the Steelers may rue not being able to regain their star right corner defender. Coach Khokhar, though, cut an unperturbed figure when asked about Mohit's departure and the lack of experience in the defensive ranks.
"The young players have shown me in training that they are no less capable than Surender Nada. In terms of the combination with Mohit, we have a replacement in Vikas. He played three matches at right corner last season and we won all three of them. So I think the corners should not b a problem for us," Khokhar told Firstpost.
Only time will tell if the Steelers' move to bank on an inexperienced defence pays off or backfires. The onus will be on Nada and Shingade to marshal the troops in defence who could do with help from their three-pronged raiding attack.
Team preparation and training
The Steelers had a short 12-day camp before the Asian Games at the JSW Sports Complex in Bellary. The focus was solely on building fitness levels and getting the new members of the squad acquainted with the old ones. The facilities at the new sports complex in Bellary are quite remarkable, allowing the Steelers step up the fitness levels in a short span of time.
The players are currently training at Bellary as preparations for the new season have stepped up. "We have worked a lot on combinations. Four among the younger players who were with us last season and that is helping us gel quickly as a team," Khokhar said.
Can Steelers improve on their debut campaign?
Ace raider Goyat will have to lead from the front and at times may need to carry the team all on his own, just the way Pardeep Narwal has done at Patna Pirates in the last three season. Coach Khokhar, though, has full faith in his pricey purchase to put in consistent performances.
“He (Monu) is the best raider in the world today in my opinion and certainly the fittest around, He never tires. He can raid continuously every game and more importantly, he can do it consistently for three months. He is sincere, hardworking and goes about his job very calmly. He is so much like Anup Kumar. I think he can be the next one," a confident Khokhar said heaping praise on Goyat.
A lot will rest on the shoulders of Goyat and Nada, who the Steelers coach thinks are the pillars of the team. The rest of players have been trained in a way to maximise the qualities of the two players. "We have a star raider in Monu Goyat and a star defender in Surender Nada. Our plan was to build a team around these players. The characteristics of the players that we have will provide perfect support for these players. We have prepared well to handle the mental challenges that the league offers, so I think we will be able to perform well," Khokhar suggested.
A year on, the Haryana side are expected to have a much lesser margin for error as the kabaddi-crazy state will accept no less than an appearance in the final. Thanks to the fierce competition, reaching the final will be a big ask for Haryana Steelers, but underestimating a kabaddi team from Haryana comes with its own risks.
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Updated Date: Oct 01, 2018 16:17:45 IST