Pro Kabaddi League 2021-22: Naveen Kumar’s Dabang Delhi continue to roll as Pardeep Narwal struggles with form
Naveen Kumar’s Dabang Delhi continue to lead the PKL 2021-22 table, while winless Telugu Titans are at the bottom.
There was a moment, during the match against UP Yoddha, when it looked like the Dabang Delhi juggernaut was coming to a halt. With the Yoddha’s defence coming into their own this week, they had managed to keep raiding sensation Naveen Kumar relatively quiet through the first half.
The 21-year-old, who earlier in the week had become the first player to score a century of points in Season 8, had only three points after first 20 minutes against the Yoddhas.
But Naveen proved that along with versatility and speed, he has a good head on his shoulders. Usually, raiders are creatures of confidence. But the youngster from Haryana let go of the disappointment of the first half and blocked out the ever-rising expectations of him to start afresh after the break.
The revival began with 16 minutes to go, when he got a touch on the right in, turned and brushed aside Sumit, who had attempted a dash from the left corner, and return to safety. With nine successful raids in a row, he finished with 17 raid points, and a total of 18 points, in the match. It was his 28th Super 10 in a row.
Naveen’s astonishing scoring streak — he has scored 123 raid points — has helped Dabang Delhi remain unbeaten in the season so far. The 2019 finalists are currently leading the standings with 31 points from seven matches.
Meanwhile, Telugu Titans continue to languish at the bottom of the leaderboard. They are yet to win a single match and were handed a crushing 48-38 defeat by U Mumba in their last match of the week.
Pirates on the rise
Despite being the only team to win three titles in the League, Patna Pirates have largely flown under the radar this season. The primary reason for that has been the departure of their star raider, Pardeep Narwal, at a record price of Rs 1.65 crore.
But the Pirates have moved on. Rather than relying on marquee names, they have built a well-knit unit with very few weaknesses. In Sachin Tanwar (45 raid points), Monu Goyat (44) and captain Prashanth Kumar Rai (42) they have the most solid and versatile raiding unit.
Mohammadreza Shadloui Chiyaneh, who had sparked a bidding war among PKL teams during the Season 8 auction, has shown why is deemed as one of the most exciting young talents in the game. The 21-year-old from Iran, playing on the left corner, has anchored Patna’s defence. With a tackle strike rate of 54%, he has earned 21 points in seven matches.
Having won two of their three matches this week, and a draw in the third, the former champions have moved up to No 2 in the standings.
Pardeep goes missing
Even as his former team is on the rise, Pardeep Narwal has fallen well short of his lofty standards. The most prolific raider in PKL history (1213 raid points), Pardeep has scored 53 in eight matches so far. And the tally stands at 16 points in three matches this week.
His team, UP Yoddha, had a double-header this weekend. Pardeep began brightly in Saturday’s match against League leaders Dabang Delhi. With the match billed as a clash between him and current sensation Naveen Kumar, Pardeep seemed keen on proving a point. He scored nine points in the first half to help the Yoddhas take an 18-12 lead into the break.
But Pardeep, whose trademark ‘dubki’ is far too predictable now, didn’t score a single point thereafter. He was substituted in the 31st minute and Yoddhas eventually succumbed to a 33-37 defeat to Delhi.
On Sunday, the Yoddhas returned resilient. They defeated favourites Bengaluru Bulls 42-27. Possibly for the first time since he made his PKL debut in 2015, Pardeep made no contribution to the score. After two unsuccessful raids, and spending most of the first half on the bench, he was substituted in the 15th minute with zero points to his name.
The architect of UP Yoddha’s big win over the Bulls, who were gunning for the top spot on the leaderboard, was Shrikant Jadhav. The power raider finished with 15 points on the night, capping an impressive week for the support raiders in the League.
Like Jadhav, Rajnish (Telugu Titans), Aslam Inamdar (Puneri Paltan), Ajinkya Pawar (Tamil Thalaivas) and Meetu (Haryana Steelers) had risen to the occasion when the team’s lead raider went cold.
Before the start of the season, the Titans had a strong attack on paper, with Siddharth Desai and Rohit Kumar in the ranks. But with Desai out with injury and Rohit yet to make a mark, the team has struggled for alternates. In the match against League leaders Dabang Delhi, it was Rajnish who provided the firepower. He scored 20 raid points to take his team within touching distance. But with Naveen Kumar spearheading Delhi’s challenge, they quelled the Titans’ challenge 36-35.
It was debutant Aslam Inamdar’s 17-point show against defending champions Bengal Warriors that helped the Puneri Paltan to their most convincing (39-27) win of the season. Meanwhile, Meetu, who was hand-picked by India legend and Haryana Steelers Rakesh Kumar, scored a Super 10 against the Warriors to help his team to a 41-37 win.
In the match against Patna Pirates on Thursday, 6 January, it was super sub Ajinkya Pawar who stole the show. Coming off the bench 14 minutes into the match, Pawar earned 14 points as his team tied 30-30 with a strong Patna side.
The Tamil Thalaivas were the perennial underdogs in their three seasons in the League. Having finished sixth in their group in the first two seasons, they finished Season 7, when all the 12 teams competed with each other twice in the round-robin stage, at the bottom of the leaderboard.
But they aren’t pushovers anymore. The 30-30 draw with Patna saw them extend their unbeaten streak to five, their best run in Pro Kabaddi so far. They are currently fifth on the leaderboard with 22 points in seven matches.
Surjeet Singh, a proven leader and one of the best cover defenders in the country, has turned them into a gritty unit. The man himself has the League-highest 22 tackle points and has rallied his young troops impressively.
Patna Pirates bt Telugu Titans 31-20
Bengal Warriors bt Jaipur Pink Panthers 31-28
Tamil Thalaivas bt UP Yoddha 39-33
Haryana Steelers tie with U Mumba 24-24
Dabang Delhi bt Telugu Titans 36-35
Puneri Paltan bt Gujarat Giants 33-26
Bengaluru Bulls bt Jaipur Pink Panthers 38-31
Patna Pirates tie with Tamil Thalaivas 30-30
Jaipur Pink Panthers bt Puneri Paltan 31-26
Haryana Steelers bt Bengal Warriors 41-37
Dabang Delhi bt UP Yoddha 37-33
U Mumba bt Telugu Titans 48-38
Patna Pirates bt Gujarat Giants 27-26
Puneri Paltan bt Bengal Warriors 39-27
UP Yoddha bt Bengaluru Bulls 42-27
Deepti Patwardhan is a freelance sports writer based in Mumbai.
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