Pro Kabaddi League 2018: U Mumba, Gujarat Fortunegiants enter playoffs; Dabang Delhi’s home run takes them to third
Double delight for U Mumba, Gujarat Fortunegiants' organised defence and Dabang Delhi's superb home run, here's a recap of Pro Kabaddi League's week 9
At the historic Pro Kabaddi auction this June, where six players went for a crore or more, Dabang Delhi KC had also come ready to splurge on an established raider. The team made the highest bid on Rishank Devadiga and on Rahul Chaudhari, only to see the two players retained by their franchises – UP Yoddha and Telugu Titans respectively. Dabang Delhi, who have never made the knockouts in the league before this, looked set for yet another disappointing season.
Though they didn’t quite get their star raiders, they put together a team of considerable experience. Led by the sturdy Joginder Narwal, the Delhi franchise has known Pro Kabaddi names like Vishal Mane, Meraj Sheykh, Rajesh Narwal and Ravinder Pahal in their ranks. Naveen Kumar has been one of the most impressive NYP’s this season, taking on the role of Delhi’s lead raider, and has been well-supported by Chandran Ranjit. The sum of their efforts has scripted the most successful home run of season six.
At the Thyagraj Indoor Stadium this past week, Delhi exceeded expectations to win five of their six matches. Having overtaken Puneri Paltan to be placed at No 3 in Zone A, Delhi has now tightened their grip on the last qualification spot in the group. Meanwhile, U Mumba and Gujarat Fortunegiants have become the first two teams to secure a passage into the knockout stage.
Double delight for U Mumba
Having scored a commanding 48-35 win over Jaipur Pink Panthers on opening night, Delhi were looking for a statement win over U Mumba on Saturday. And the hosts started off well, picking at the Mumbai franchises defence clinically in the first half. U Mumba got their first tackle point only in the 11th minute, and were all-out twice as Delhi raced to a nine-point lead at half-time.
Siddharth Desai, who had been kept quiet in the first half, roared back in the last 20 minutes. He started off with a Super Raid in only the second minute and starting rolling through the Delhi defence. With his second Super Raid, in the 29th minute of the game, he inflicted an all-out on Delhi, closing the gap to 26-25. The Kolhapur lad scored 16 of his 19 raid points in the second half to help U Mumba to a stunning 41-34 come-from-behind victory.
As encouraging as the win over Delhi had been, a day later U Mumba scored a win that really mattered. The Mumbai franchise had not beaten Gujarat Fortunegiants in any of their five meetings, including two extremely close clashes this season. During the top-of-the-table clash on Sunday however, their defence, which had leaked too many points in those matches, tightened up and came up with possibly their most clinical performance. Veteran defender Dharamraj Cheralathan and Rohit Rana scored six points each and U Mumba returned with a haul of 17 tackle points.
Cheralathan also reached a personal milestone of 200 tackle points during the match. The highlight of the day for the 43-year-old was a Super Tackle on Gujarat’s star raider Sachin, with only belated support from Abolfazl Maghsoudlou.
Gujarat bounced back with a massive 45-27 win over Patna Pirates. Parvesh Bhainswal confirmed his status as the best cover in the league, with eight out of eight successful tackles against one of the better raiding units in the League. So organised were Gujarat in defence that Pro Kabaddi’s most prolific scorer Pardeep Narwal could get only one raid point, four empty and five unsuccessful raids.
The successful double-header in Delhi took U Mumba back to the top of Zone A. They have a league-high of 72 points from 18 matches, while Gujarat are a close second on 68 points from 17 matches. Two of the most dominant teams in the league, it was no surprise that they were the first to qualify for the six-team knockout phase.
No team has yet secured qualification in Zone B, but Bengaluru Bulls are comfortably sitting at the top with 59 points from 17 matches. Three-time defending champions Patna Pirates are second at 46 points from 16 matches. But it is a lot closer in the Group, as less than 15 points separate Patna from the bottom-placed Telugu Titans. Though the Titans have dropped in intensity, they have nine more matches to go, including the six at home. Tamil Thalaivas (34 points from 17 matches) did enough to stay in the mix, while UP Yoddha broke their winless 10-match streak with a 30-29 victory over Haryana Steelers.
The Delhi leg, though, turned out to be all about the home side. Their young raiders rose to the occasion while their experienced defence held the fort down as Delhi piled on five wins at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex. No home team, before this, had managed to win more than four at the home stadium this season.
The hosts made their intent clear by plundering 48 points against Jaipur in the first match on Friday. Meraj Sheykh turned back the clock to return with 15 raid points. Meanwhile, Ranjit and Naveen, who have shared the raiding responsibility this season, scored nine points each. And the raiding trio performed through the week, making sure their defence had plenty to play at.
Vishal Mane, who was part of the high-flying U Mumba team in the first three seasons, was back in ‘dashing’ form on home turf. He had two High 5’s in the week and a total of 16 tackles points. With captain Joginder Narwal holding down the left corner, Delhi have a solid, organised defence line. Mane, with his experience and timing, gave them the required aggressive edge.
Delhi’s home run helped them rise to the third spot in the league and open up a 13-point lead over Puneri Paltan. With only three league stage matches to go for both teams, they are the frontrunners to make it to the knockouts.
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