Jaipur Pink Panthers will always have the honour of being the first champions of Pro Kabaddi. That win at the National Sports Club of India over U Mumba in a thrilling final set the ball rolling for the league. It was a great advertisement for kabaddi and Jaipur Pink Panthers became the early leaders in a competition that was to grow in popularity and strength.
However, over the next five seasons, Jaipur failed to live up to their high standards and most of their campaigns thereafter ended in disappointment. The runners-up place in season four stands as an anomaly in an otherwise mediocre run for the Abhishek Bachchan-owned franchise.
2018 saw the Jaipur Pink Panthers part ways with coach Balwan Singh who masterminded the team's topsy-turvy run in his five years at the helm of affairs. Replacing the veteran is Srinivas Reddy, a relative youngster in the coaching department, but one who comes with a great pedigree.
Reddy recently coached the Indian team to victory at Kabaddi Masters in Dubai. He has also conducted camps and overseen the NYP program of PKL in past editions. His biggest achievement however, came on Korean soil when he guided their kabaddi team to their first ever kabaddi medal at Asian Games. In the 2014 Incheon Games, Reddy-coached Korea claimed the bronze medal.
Jaipur will hope Reddy's arrival will bring much-needed consistency to the franchise that has always possessed talent in abundance. A second title would the cherry on the cake.
"It's a fresh start for us. So under a new coach who we know has great ability, we hope to be more competitive and win the league once again. I am excited to see the dawn of this new era," Bachchan had told reporters after the auctions in May.
Auction purchases and team combination
Jaipur Pink Panthers decided against retaining any player from last season. That allowed them to go all out in the auctions and the Jaipur outfit managed to acquire some big names.
All-rounder Deepak Niwas Hooda was the costliest purchase for Rs 1.15 crore, but their biggest acquisition came at a much lower price. Former U Mumba skipper Anup Kumar was roped in for Rs 30 lakh. Anup may not be the raider who graced the opening season of the PKL but he remains a wily customer on the mat. His composure and kabaddi brain is second to none, and that's likely to stabilise the Jaipur team.
Selvamani K, who had an excellent fourth season but missed the fifth season due to injury, will look to make amends for the lost time on the sidelines when he spearheads the raiding department under the guidance of Anup Kumar.
Gangadhari Mallesh, who was a surprise selection in India's Asian Games squad, will have plenty to prove after missing out the previous few campaigns. Youngsters Anand Patil and Kenyan skipper David Mosambayi will provide quality options for the raiding front line.
The main responsibility of the raiding department though will fall on Hooda. The former Puneri Paltan captain is one of the finest raiding all-rounders in the game. He was the seventh-best raider last season with 172 raid points. With greater support this season, Hooda has the ability to increase that tally.
In defence, Mohit Chhillar's name stands out, so does the Bajirao Hodage's. Chhillar is one of the most successful right corner defenders in the league, while Hodage has earned a reputation as a solid cover defender. On the other side, Sandeep Dhull, who missed the previous season, will play at left corner, while Korean defender Young Chang Ko, who played an instrumental role in Korea's silver-medal winning performance at the 2018 Asian Games, will occupy the other cover position.
The concern for the Pink Panthers is that both Chhillar and Hodage are coming on the back of poor campaigns. While there are question marks over Dhull's fitness, Young Chang Ko is untested in the PKL.
On paper, the Pink Panthers have a good balance of youth and experience, but concerns over form and fitness of certain players are sure to worry Reddy.
Preparation and training
The Pink Panthers had to settle for a single camp for its players. Coach Reddy was involved with the Indian women's team at Asian Games, while four players returned late from national duty.
Hence there was no separate camp for fitness which could be a concern for players like Selvamani and Sandeep Dhull who are returning from injuries. However, according to Reddy the focus in the camp has been more on getting the players together as a group.
"From the very first day, I made it clear that reputations don't matter to me. I wanted the young players in our team to feel comfortable. There are few nerves that I want to settle. We are blessed to have a captain like Anup Kumar who brought the team together," coach Reddy told Firstpost.
Can Anup Kumar make Jaipur champions again?
Jaipur once again have enough talent to take the team to another final, but with few players struggling with form, fitness or confidence, the calming influence of Anup will be crucial to their chances.
The responsibility of getting the best out the likes of Hooda, Selvamani, Chhillar, who are match-winners on their day, will rest on the able shoulders of the former U Mumba man.
Having led U Mumba to three straight finals, Anup knows what it takes to get forge a winning side from a talented group of players.
On paper, this new-look Jaipur Pink Panthers side looks the part. Only time will tell if they can translate that into performance on the mat.
Updated Date: Oct 06, 2018 20:27:22 IST