Log on to Pro Kabaddi League's website and an advert that occupies a large area of your screen will engage all your attention. "Pro Kabaddi Season 6, starts 7 October". It will make sure you'll know. A lot has changed in the league since its advent in 2014, apart from the front figure and the centre of attraction in its advertising messages.
Rahul Chaudhari, in this pecking order, is ahead of everyone. Even Indian kabaddi captain Ajay Thakur and three-time champion and last year's most valuable player, Pardeep Narwal have to take a back seat. Chaudhari is the poster-boy of the era in kabaddi — the era of fame, money and recognition. Many stars have come and established themselves in the league, but few have been able to match the popularity and charisma of Chaudhari, who remains the face of PKL despite the dawn of new stars on the horizon.
There's more to the raider than sheer charm. A look at the statistics will tell you why Chaudhari is such a star. The Telugu Titans raider leads the all-time charts for most points, most raid points, most number of successful raids and most number of Super 10s.
The 25-year-old, who will be among the handful of players to play for the same franchise in all six seasons, is held in very high regard in Hyderabad. Every time he raids at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium, the roof comes off.
The Telugu Titans have made Chaudhari a superstar, but they haven't managed to make him a champion yet.
The lack of a winner's medal continues to be a blemish on the Chaudhari-Telugu Titans love affair that will enter its sixth stanza this season.
With a change in coaching staff and few big purchases, Telugu Titans hope to have assembled a winning machine that draws its energy from Chaudhari's relentless raiding exploits.
Auction purchases and team combination
The Telugu Titans had retained raider Nilesh Salunke, Mohsen Maghsoudloujafari and all-rounder Vishal Bhardwaj before the auctions. So all their efforts and finances in the auction were focused on regaining the services for Chaudhari. The Titans had decided against retaining their star man as they felt purchasing him in the auctions would be a cheaper alternative keeping in mind the rules of PKL auctions.
However, as things turned out, the Titans had to shell out Rs 1.29 crore to bring their captain back into the team after they exercised their Right to Match card to take him away from the grasps of Dabang Delhi.
The other major purchase the Titans made was equally important as it was a measure to solve the issues that had derailed their campaign last season. Iran's right corner defender Abozar Mohajermighani who played a big part in Gujarat Fortunegiants' run to the final last season was roped in for Rs 75 lakh. So was his compatriot Farhad Milaghardan, who plays at right cover.
"Last season we leaked a lot of points from the right side of the defence. It was an obvious weakness and team exploited that. So our priority was to sign right-sided defenders. Abozar was the best player in the position last season and at the Asian Games, so that was a crucial purchase for us. Farhad is someone Abozar knows well and has played with him at right cover, so it's a good advantage. I feel we have addressed that problem," Kilaru Jagmohan, the Titans' new head coach told Firstpost over the phone.
The rest of the purchases comprised of players from the New Young Player category and Category C and D of the domestic players. Thus the Titans have a fairly young squad for the upcoming season, and a few key roles in the team are expected to be occupied by faces hitherto unknown.
Like every season, the raiding department appears to be the strength of the team. Chaudhari has a very able ally in Salunke who scored 98 raid points last season. The Maharashtra raider also starred in his state's win in the National Championship last year and carried that performance into the Federation Cup where Maharashtra reached the semi-finals. Iran's Maghsoudloujafari didn't have much of an impact last season but his confidence will be up after Iran's win at the Asian Games. Young raiders Rakshit and Rajnish who were part of the Titans camp last season will play a more vital part this season, with the latter being identified by Chaudhari as the player to watch out for this season. NYP Kamal Singh is the best among the juniors and one who coach Jagmohan trusts to make an impact.
In defence, Bhardwaj and Abozar will guard the corners. If the duo can strike a combination early, Titans will have a defence to be wary of. Iran's Milagarhdan is expected to be at the right cover position, while the left cover is likely to be occupied by Rakesh Kumar Singh. The rearguard is stronger compared to last season and that should put less pressure on their raiders and thus allow them to better their performances.
Preparation and training
The Titans are among the few teams that are training in their home city ahead of the new season. Under coach Jagmohan, who returned to the Titans having served as a team manager in the first four seasons, the Titans have had two training camps in Hyderabad.
In the first camp, that lasted for six weeks in July and August, the team worked excessively on the players' biomotor abilities. Having beefed up the physical fitness, the focus shifted to tactics and gameplan in the second camp that is currently underway.
However, throughout the two camps, coach Jagmohan has placed an emphasis on video analysis sessions.
"We have the most number of NYP players. So there is a lot of focus on preparation. We have had a number of video sessions especially with the junior boys as I wanted them to study the players and the strategies that are used in the league," coach Jagmohan said.
However, the Titans' start to the season might be disrupted due to the late arrival of their Iranian players who had visa issues to sort out. The Titans coach expressed unhappiness at their absence in the earlier part of the camp and conceded that the delay may cost his team.
"I didn't receive the Iranian players until a few days back. It's a big problem for us as you need at least fifteen days to make them gel with the team. Fortunately for us, we have tried many different combinations during training and that should see us through until the Iranians are ready, but I would have liked to have them much earlier," Jagmohan complained.
Can Titans rally around Chaudhari?
Despite Chaudhari's unparalleled numbers, Titans have failed to make the most of his qualities. The Hyderabad outfit has reached the final on just one occasion and made the playoffs just twice.
With an improved defence, Titans might have a combination that helps them avoid the disappointment of an early exit. Captain Chaudhari certainly thinks so.
"We have a really good team this season. Our defence is much stronger with Abozar in the team. Our raiding has always been good, so this season we can achieve something positive," Chaudhari told Firstpost.
"Even some of the young players that we have are quite capable. If they play as they did in the training, we will surprise a few teams this season," he added.
It will be no surprise to see Chaudhari on top of the scoring charts again this season, but the onus is now on the improved Telugu Titans to make their captain's efforts count.
Updated Date: Sep 30, 2018 18:50:58 IST