Pro Kabaddi League 2018: U Mumba first home team to flex muscle; Zone B continues to be unpredictable
With four wins from six matches, U Mumba had the most successful outing for a home team so far this season. The successful run at home also saw them climb to the top of Zone A and are the comfortable front runners in the entire League.
Mid-way through the Pro Kabaddi week in Mumbai, it looked like the League’s strongest side U Mumba would also fall prey to the misfortune that has dogged home teams this season.
On Sunday, the struggling Haryana Steelers were running Mumbai close in the closing minutes. While Monu Goyat continued to misfire, livewire Vikas Khandola had taken on the role of lead raider and was constantly testing and teasing Mumbai’s defence. With Haryana in a narrow 32-30 lead, and just over 30 seconds left on the clock, Khandola went in to raid again. It was U Mumba’s captain, and defence lynchpin, Fazel Atrachali lost his nerve, went in for an aggressive tackle and conceded a point that put the match out of the hosts’ reach. They lost 35-31 to the Steelers – their second defeat in two days.
U Mumba had swooped in for their home leg, full of promise. The team had lost only one out of their first eight matches. At home, after beating Jaipur Pink Panthers easily in the opening game they went down 38-36 to Gujarat Fortunegiants on Saturday and then to Steelers, a team they had beaten comprehensively twice this season.
But the Mumbai franchise, with the big-built but soft-spoken Gholamreza Mazandarani at the helm of affairs, was quick to regroup. They tightened up the defence and used their bench strength smartly to coast in the next three matches. U Mumba defeated UP Yoddhas 41-24, then quashed a second-half comeback by the in-form Bengaluru Bulls to win 32-29 and finished their home leg with a dominating 36-22 victory over the Tamil Thalaivas.
With four wins from six matches, it was the most successful outing for a home team so far this season. The successful run at home also saw U Mumba climb to the top of Zone A and are the comfortable front runners in the entire League. The Mumbai franchise have 56 points after 14 matches and are No 1 in their group, with Maharashtra rivals Puneri Paltan second at 38 points from as many matches. Mumbai’s score difference of 126 is more than thrice as much as Pune’s (40) in their Zone, or Bengaluru’s (41) in the League.
Leading the individual scoring charts are U Mumba’s star raider Siddharth Desai (134 total points, 131 raid points) and left-corner Atrachali (57). Debutant Desai clocked 100 raid points during the week in Mumbai in the game against Gujarat. The 26-year-old equaled Rahul Chaudhari’s record of reaching the milestone in nine matches.
While Desai, with two Super 10s in the week, and Atrachali, with two High 5s, are invaluable to the team, the home leg really tested U Mumba’s bench strength. The franchise had consciously kept away from the trappings of signing on ‘star players’ for the season and opted for younger, more efficient players. And that strategy seemed to have paid off in the home leg, where mental and physical fatigue of playing six matches in seven days can affect players. U Mumba’s utility players Vinod Kumar and Rohit Baliyan have also been integral to their success, not just in the week but through the season.
With Desai still recovering from a shoulder injury, and used rather judiciously by coach Mazandarni, the other raiders – Abhishek Singh and Darshan Kadian — stepped up to the plate. While Abhishek began with a Super 10 against Jaipur, Kadian improved through the week. His best was reserved for a key battle against Bengaluru. In a match that featured the in-form Desai and Pawan Kumar Sehrawat, and established stars like Rohit Kumar and Kashiling Adake, Kadian emerged the best with nine points.
"We are having a good selection headache because we have four to five very good raiders," said coach Mazandarani on Thursday evening. "They are all playing well, and it gives the team management a good feeling when we are spoilt for choice."
With six teams having played host, the League is almost at the half-way point.
While the teams from the West – Mumbai, Pune and Gujarat — have risen to the top of their group, Zone B is a lot more open and unpredictable. Patna Pirates are the current leaders at 33 points from 12 matches and are coming into their own. The defending champions had a fruitful week in Mumbai – they scored a 50-30 win over Bengal Warriors and edged past Dabang Delhi 38-35 on Thursday. More importantly, captain Pardeep Narwal scored 27 points in those two matches and is muscling his way back on the leaderboard again. With 122 raid points from 11 matches, he is placed second only behind Desai.