Pro Kabaddi League 2018: Rishank Devadiga-led UP Yoddha's silent progress makes them dark horses for the title
UP Yoddha are by no means a star-studded team, but on their day have the potential to be world beaters. After a solid debut, UP Yoddha have made silent progress
Uttar Pradesh Yoddha better known as UP Yoddha made a satisfactory debut in 2017 as they reached the playoffs in their first ever attempt. A close defeat to the Puneri Paltan in the first eliminator meant their run in the knockout stages was short-lived, but there were lessons that were learnt.
"Last season we had 7-8 top players in our team. We played the entire season without much break. That was our problem as we ran out of fuel in the end. This year we have a much stronger squad, so we can rely on 10-15 players to do the job," captain Rishank Devagida told Firstpost on the sidelines of the unveiling ceremony of the Pro Kabaddi League trophy.
Apart from insufficient fitness levels, some of Yoddha's star players failed to put in the desired performance. It got them through the league phase, but in a close affair against Pune, that one under-performing unit made the difference.
In season six, under new leadership and coach, UP Yoddha look to better their performance from the previous campaign.
Auction purchases and team combination
The Yoddha retained Nitesh Kumar, the right corner defender who was their find of the campaign. The young defender scored 47 tackles points and was UP's most successful defender.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Yoddha let Devadiga and Nitin Tomar go, but they managed to regain the Maharashtra skipper using the Final Bid Match card. Similarly veteran defender Jeeva Kumar was brought back.
The purchase of Prashanth Kumar Rai for a price of Rs 79 lakh raised eyebrows, but the Karnataka raider was excellent during the Senior National championship where his side only lost in the semi-finals in the last raid against Devadiga's Maharashtra. He repeated his heroics in Federation Cup Kabaddi — a knockout tournament between the top eight teams from national championships.
"Prashanth Kumar Rai is at his peak. I feel he was one of the best raiders in the senior nationals. He did extremely well in so many other competitions last year. I am glad to have him in the team. I expect him to cross the 100-point mark easily," Devadiga said.
Shrikanth Jadhav who had a breakthrough season with U Mumba last year and Rohit Kumar Choudhary are good options to have for the third raider's role.
In defence, veteran Jeeva Kumar is expected to pull the strings. He had the most number of high 5s (7) last season and his wealth of experience will be very helpful for Devadiga in managing a young side.
"Jeeva Kumar has so much experience to share. With him in the team, I can rely on him to control the defensive aspect of the game. I can focus on my performance and other raiders in the team," the 26-year-old raider said.
Nitesh will renew his corner partnership with Pankaj, but the team's strong zone will be the cover area. Marshalled by Jeeva and Sagar Krishna, the central area of UP's defence will be key to their success.
The team's chief strength will be its raiding department, but with Jeeva Kumar leading the troops, expect much improved defensive performances from UP Yoddha.
Preparation and Training
Under new coach Jasveer Singh, there has been a lot of focus on preparation. Based on Devadiga's feedback from last season, the management has placed heavy emphasis on fitness.
"As per my inputs at the end of the last season, I had asked the team management to provide us with a nutritionist to help us stay fit. They have responded well and our diets are being monitored by nutritionist since the last two months," Devadiga said.
"Following a strict diet has helped us build our fitness. We have a young team and as we begin this season, the fitness levels of the team are at its peak," he added.
Apart from fitness, coach Jasveer has paid individual attention to the technique of the players. His inputs have helped players iron their flaws before the start of the new season.
"The coach gives great attention to detail. Personally, he has helped me understand and improve on many aspects of my game. We have had excellent preparation this time and out and it gives me immense confidence before the first game," the captain said.
Rishank Devadiga, the champion leader?
Devadiga will captain a team in the PKL for the first time, but the 26-year-old has enough experience of captaincy already under his belt. Last year, Devadiga successfully captained Maharashtra to the senior nationals title for the first time after 11 years.
The way the young raider carried the armband is very encouraging for the UP side who have placed the responsibility of leading a young side in the PKL. But, it would be fair to say that Devadiga's best performance came in the senior nationals and the extra responsibility of captaincy got the best out of him.
"I never felt the pressure of captaincy. Even with UP, I don't feel any different as captain. Whether I play better as captain is a question, I can't answer, but certainly there's no way I look at it as a burden," Devadiga suggested.
UP Yoddha reached great heights at certain points last season, but a lack of consistency and fitness led to their downfall in the playoffs. With fitness levels higher than ever, UP Yoddha are trying to maximise the energy of its younger lot. The presence of Devadiga and Jeeva will help channelise it in the best way possible.
UP Yoddha are by no means a star-studded team, but on their day have the potential to be world beaters. After a solid debut, UP Yoddha have made silent progress. Those underestimating the Devadiga-led side are surely in for a surprise.
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