It has been a season of upheaval in Indian kabaddi. While the Pro Kabaddi players were hurled into a stratosphere of financial riches, the Indian national team returned with its worst showing at the Asian Games. Seven-time Asian Games gold-medalists India, who had not lost a match since the sport was introduced at the Asian Games in 1990, lost twice in Indonesia and eventually had to settle for a bronze medal. Intense scrutiny, a farce selection trial and the emergence of a rival governing body have since added confusion to the chaos.
But it has been business as usual on the mat in the opening leg of the Pro Kabaddi League, which entered its sixth edition.
In keeping with the trend last season, the home team has struggled to get going. While teams hope to ride on home support, it becomes difficult to sustain the intensity for six matches in six days, or five in the case of Tamil Thailaivas, especially in a high-impact sport like kabaddi.
With Chennai hosting the opening leg of the League, which began on 7 October, the Tamil Thalaivas started with a bang. They defeated three-time defending champions Patna Pirates 42-26 in the Zone B match. Ajay Thakur, India’s beleaguered captain, bounced back with 14 points from 18 raid attempts to lead the home team to opening glory.
However, the euphoria only lasted for a day. Tamil Thalaivas lost the next four matches, capping their home leg with an underwhelming 27-36 defeat to Bengal Warriors on Thursday.
The Thalaivas, who made their debut last season, are the most experienced team in the League with players like Ajay Thakur, Manjeet Chhillar and Jasvir Singh in their ranks. In E Bhaskaran, they also have a coach who knows how to build champion teams. Thakur (59 raid points) and Chhillar (16 tackle points), who still seems stung by non-selection for the Asian Games, have done their bit, the team understandably hasn’t gelled well yet.
Tracking the crorepatis
The auction for season 6 of PKL was a revelation. The indigenous sport was truly revealed as a prime-time sensation as the players’ value soared through the roof. Five Indians — Monu Goyat, Rishank Devadiga, Deepak Hooda, Rahul Chaudhuri and Nitin Tomar — and Iran’s Fazel Atrachali were signed for a crore or more.
Of the lot, Tomar has been the most impressive so far. The Navyman has led his new team Puneri Paltan from the front, earning them 22 raid points in two matches. Pune drew their first match 32-32 with U Mumba on Sunday, but returned a day later to score a comprehensive 34-22 win over Haryana Steelers.
In that match, the most expensive player of the League — Goyat, who fetched Rs 1.51 crore — was missing in action. But he has been named captain of the Haryana team after Surender Nada sustained an injury in the match against Pune, as did UP Yodhas captain, Devadiga. The daredevil do-or-die specialist who was at U Mumba earlier is now shouldering more responsibility. Shrikant Jadhav and Prashanth Kumar Rai were UP’s lead raiders in the opening game against Tamil Thalaivas, which the Yodhas won 37-32. In the next match, against Patna Pirates on Thursday, Devadiga spent almost 11 minutes off the mat. It may have been crucial in the final analysis, as the Yodhas narrowly lost out 41-43 to the Patna Pirates.
Jaipur all-rounder Hooda, who has been an under used as a raider in the India jersey, could get only two points from 11 raids. Meanwhile, Telugu captain Chaudhuri had nine raid points during his team’s 33-28 win over Tamil.
Atrachali, the only Iranian to command a crore in a league studded with Indian stars, hasn’t yet pulled off his iron-man moves but has still been U Mumba’s best defender with seven tackle points in two matches. As U Mumba is seeking a fresh start, Atrachali will be the key to execute new coach Gholamreza Mazandarani’s vision. The Irani discipline, especially in defence, was evident as Mumbai drew their opening match against Pune and beat Jaipur Pink Panthers 39-32 in the second.
Young guns fire
This season, more than any, has felt like a changing of guard in the League. During the auctions, the older players like Anup Kumar, Manjeet Chhillar and Jasvir Singh had to watch from the sidelies while the younger stars scooped the riches.
On the mat too, a few new faces have emerged in the first week of PKL season 6. The standouts in the raiding department are U Mumba’s Siddharth Desai and Pawan Kumar Sherawat of the Bengaluru Bulls while Ashish Kumar, also of Bengaluru, has impressed in defence.
The 22-year-old Sherawat was in sparkling form in the match against Tamil Thalaivas. He earned 20 raid points, including three Super Raids, to help his team beat the hosts 48-37. In the same match, Kumar, the right cover, garnered seven tackle points. He was involved in two Super Tackles on Thakur.
While defence is the spine of the new U Mumba team, 27-year-old Siddharth Desai has fired up the team’s raiding department. Desai earned 13 raid points for U Mumba in their marquee clash against Jaipur. More importantly, he got them two raid points in the frantic last couple of minutes where U Mumba turned the tables on Jaipur. In the tied game against Pune, the tall raider earned an impressive 14 points from 22 raids.
Updated Date: Oct 12, 2018 16:30 PM