Pro Kabaddi League 2019: After falling short in previous edition, Gujarat Fortunegiants earn shot at title this season
For Gujarat Fortunegiants, last season's losing finalists, Thursday was a night for second chances. With their win over UP Yoddha, they will get another opportunity to beat Bengaluru Bulls and claim the title.
“Pichle season main hum trophy ko dekh kar aur haath laga kar wapas chale gaye the (Last season, we touched the winner’s trophy, yet went back empty-handed.)”
Gujarat Fortunegiants coach Manpreet Singh’s tone betrays resentment as he says it. Clearly, his team’s defeat in the final of last season’s Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) at the hands of Patna Pirates is still at the back of his mind. Back on that gloomy Chennai night in October 2017, Manpreet’s side seemed to be in with a chance until half-time, trailing just by three points. What happened in the next 20 minutes is well-documented: the Pirates strode to a 55-38 victory to claim their third title on the trot.
Thursday, though, was a night for second chances, in more ways than one. Having beaten the UP Yoddha by a 38-31 margin in Qualifier 2 at Mumbai’s NSCI Stadium, Manpreet’s Gujarat Fortunegiants are once again in touching distance of the PKL trophy, thanks to having seized the second chance that they were given, courtesy Qualifier 2. On Saturday, they will face the Bengaluru Bulls, who had picked them apart in Qualifier 1.
Parvesh-Sunil combination clicks
One of the reasons behind the success of the Fortunegiants this season has been the combination of the two cover defenders Parvesh Bhainswal and captain Sunil Kumar, both of whom are cousins who grew up in the same village in Sonipat, their houses separated by just a wall. In Qualifier 1 against the Bengaluru franchise, the duo had contributed just one point.
On Thursday, they were slightly more efficient, with Sunil’s three and Parvesh’s two points coming at crucial junctures.
Talking about his game against the Bulls in Qualifier 1, Sunil said: “We made a lot of errors in the match against Bengaluru. Parvesh at least had one tackle point. I had none! When your defence doesn’t work, the team won’t work.”
Neutralise Nitesh in defence, play with five men
Manpreet also revealed that the team’s strategy revolved around not giving UP Yoddha’s star defender Nitesh Kumar easy tackle points. Nitesh has racked up 100 tackle points this season, the most by any player.
“We knew once we had neutralised Nitesh (Kumar), their defence would collapse. I’ve played with his father for a few years, he used to be a very good left cover and Nitesh plays as a right corner. The sport runs in his blood. The pressure that players feel in big matches, he doesn’t seem to feel that. That’s why targetting him was necessary.”
Another critical aspect of the team’s strategy for the game, Manpreet said, was the try and not give away easy bonus points, which can only be conceded when there are six or seven players on the field of play.
“When it came to raiding, we knew that if we focused on keeping Prashant Kumar Rai in check, we would have taken care of a bulk of their raid points. Around 80 percent of their raid points come through him.
Manpreet said: “The team was never nervous. Our planning was a little off the mark in the dying stages. Our plan was to keep five players on the mat, so that the option of bonus is not available for their raiders. We knew that Prashant is a player who scores off bonus points, rather than earning touch points. Besides, we also noticed that their raiders were picking easy points when we had six and seven players on the mat. Our defence was unable to read their raider Sachin (Kumar) at times. Otherwise, we managed to keep their established raiders like Rishank (Devadiga), Srikant (Jadhav) and Prashant Rai in check.”
UP’s troubles were compounded when their captain, Rishank, pulled a muscle in the first half itself. The Mumbai-based player, who became a fan favourite in the city while playing for U Mumba in the first few seasons of the PKL, ended the night with just one point.
Rishank’s injury saw him be substituted in the ninth minute. He came back only with one minute left on the clock for half-time. In that period, his side seized the lead, an exhilarating phase for Yoddha, which lasted all of three heady minutes.
By the time the skipper returned to the mat, his side was trailing by five. With 11 minutes left in the game, the Fortunegiants stretched that lead to 15 points. Yet, there were more twists written into the night. With two minutes left on the clock, Yoddha’s deficit was just five points, raider Srikant (seven points) and defender Nitesh (six points) driving the chase. Ultimately, it wasn’t to be as the Fortunegiants claimed victory.
“We made a few errors in the last 10 minutes. But the way we played today, I wish we had played just like that in the last game (against Bengaluru Bulls in Qualifier 1),” said Manpreet.
For the Fortunegiants, Saturday will present a second chance to beat Bengaluru Bulls. Maybe this time, Manpreet’s men won’t have to go home empty-handed.
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