Pro Kabaddi League 2021: The daring dozen and what to expect
The Pro Kabaddi League, which had to be cancelled due to the pandemic last year, is set to resume in Bangalore on 22 December.
After a year’s absence, the Pro Kabaddi League is set to resume in Bangalore on 22 December. The League, which had to be cancelled due to the pandemic last year, will take place in a bio-secure bubble at the Sheraton Grand, Whitefield.
Pro Kabaddi has been credited with morphing one of the oldest Indian sports into a TV phenom and over the years it has grown to be one of the most popular Leagues in the country. Like 2019, the tournament will start with a 12-team League stage. Bengal Warriors are the defending champions.
Even in the best of times, Pro Kabaddi has thrown up a few surprises and been a platform for emerging talent in the country. More of that can be expected this time as the players haven’t played in such a high-pressure tournament for almost two years. The teams have been in camp for almost eight weeks before undergoing a seven-day quarantine in Bangalore before entering the PKL bubble.
As the League gets set to go, we look at the 12 teams in the running:
Titles: 1 (2019)
Team: Maninder Singh (captain), Rishank Devadiga, Sukesh Hegde, Abozar Mohajermighani, Rinku Narwal, Rohit Banne, Esmaeil Nabibakhsh, Ravindra Kumawat, Akash Pikalmunde, Anand V, Darshan J, Vijin Thangadurai, Amit, Parveen, Sachin Vittala, Manoj Gowda, Rohit, Tapas Pal
Bengal Warriors were able to retain their key performers from the 2019 edition, when they won their first title. Captain Maninder Singh has been their talisman and the raider was in top form last year as well, earning 205 raid points in 20 matches. The surprise package, however, was Iran all-rounder Esmaeil Nabibakhsh, who came up with a match-winning nine points in raid in the final as Bengal edged out Dabang Delhi 39-34. They have added more firepower to their raiding unit by bringing on Rishank Devadiga, who starred for UP Yoddha last season. Iran’s Abozar Mohajermighani, who has come in from Telugu Titans, has showed sparks of brilliance in the League and may give Bengal the added edge in defence.
Best performance: Final (2019)
Team: Joginder Narwal (captain), Ajay Thakur, Naveen Kumar, Ashu Malik, Emad Sedaghatnia, Neeraj Narwal, Sushant Sail, Jeeva Kumar, Mohit, Sumit, Mohammed Malak, Vikash Kumar, Balram, Manjeet Chhillar, Sandeep Narwal, Vijay Jaglan
Having missed out on the title last year, Dabang Delhi has decided to place their bet on old war horses. The team has brought in former India captain Ajay Tkahur (raider), Manjeet Chhillar (all-rounder), Sandeep Narwal (defender) and Jeeva Kumar (cover) in key positions. They have also retained captain Joginder Narwal, their mainstay in defence. Delhi’s ace up the sleeve, however, is Naveen Kumar, who has grown in stature in the League. After making a splash in season 6, Kumar emerged as one of the highest scoring raiders in 2019, with 301 points in 23 matches. He will be expected to spearhead the team challenge this time as well.
Titles: 1 (2018)
Team: Pawan Sehrawat (captain), Abolfazl Maghsodloumahali, Banty, Chandran Ranjit, Deepak Narwal, Dong Geon Lee, More GB, Naseeb, Rohit Sangwan, Mayur Kadam, Mohit Sehrawat, Mahender Singh, Saurabh Nandal, Amit Sheoran, Ankit, Vikas
With Pawan Kumar Sehrawat leading the way, the Bengaluru Bulls will once again be a team to watch out for. He has led the scoring charts the past two seasons and finished the 2019 edition with 346 raid points in 24 matches. Bengaluru also have experienced raiders in Deepak Narwal and Chandran Ranjit. They retained Amit Sheoran and cover defender Mahender Singh. But Bengaluru do not have as much experience and star power in defence.
Titles: 1 (2015)
Team: Fazel Atrachali (captain), Abhishek Singh, Jashandeep Singh, Navneet, Rahul Rana, V Ajith, Ajeet, Harendra Kumar, Sunil Siddhgavali, Rinku HC, Ajinkya Kapre, Ashish Kumar, Mohsen Maghsoudlou, Pankaj
Traditionally the glamour team in the League, U Mumba has opted for young talent this time around. Apart from Abhishek Singh, who was their chief raider last season as well, U Mumba is thin on experience in the raiding department. Two of their raiders, Jashandeep Singh and Rahul Rana, will be making their PKL debut, while it will only be the second season for Navneet and V Ajith. Similarly, captain Fazel Atrachali is the only one in defence who has proven his mettle in the League. He collected the most number of defence points in 2019, finishing with 82 points in 24 matches. The fiery Iranian is a very involved leader who has, in the past, shown that he can marshal a young team. U Mumba will heavily rely on their captain once again to get them to the knockout stages.
Titles: 3 (2016 January, 2016 June, 2017)
Team: Prashanth Kumar Rai (captain), Monu Goyat, Monu, Mohit, Guman Singh, Rajveersinh Chavan, Sachin Tanwar, Selvamani K, Neeraj Kumar, Sandeep, Shubham Shinde, Sourav Gulia, Sunil, C Sajin, Daniel Omondi, Sahil Mann, Shadloui Chianeh
Pardeep Narwal’s departure has left a big gaping hole in the Patra Pirates Challenge. Narwal, the highest scorer in the League’s history, was an integral part of the Pirates’ hat-trick of titles. The Patna franchise has tried to make up for his absence by roping in Prashanth Kumar Rai and Sachin Tanwar, who was a consistent performer for the Gujarat Fortune Giants. Patna will also hope that Monu Goyat returns to his prolific ways. To boost their defence, Patna signed Iran’s Shadloui Chianeh for Rs 31 lakh, making him the most expensive overseas player in the 2021 auction.
Best performance: Playoffs (2017, 2019)
Team: Vikas Khandola (captain), Akshay Kumar, Ashish, Mohammad Esmaeil, Vinay, Ravi Kumar, Chand Singh, Rajesh Gurjar, Surender Nada, Ajay, Hamid Nader, Rajesh Narwal, Rohit Gulia, Shrikant Tewthia, Vikas Jaglan
Haryana Steelers is one of the strongest teams on paper for PKL season 8. Vikas Khandola, their lead raider, has been named the captain for his consistent performance over the last two seasons. He will be supported by mercurial Mohammad Esmaeil, who made his PKL debut in 2019 with Patna Pirates. Even though Surender Nada was forced out with injury in the last edition, the team has retained him. Nada is a giant in the left corner and will be expecting him to marshal the defence. But where Haryana Steelers, coached by former India star Rakesh Kumar, may have a definite edge over the rest is their choice to go for six all-rounders. Most famous among them are veteran Rajesh Narwal and Rohit Gulia, who specialised in do-or-die raids for Gujarat Fortune Giants.
Best performance: Playoffs (2017, 2018, 2019)
Team: Nitesh Kumar (captain), Pardeep Narwal, Aman Hooda, Ankit, Gulveer Singh, James Kamweti, Mohammed Taghi, Rohit, Rohit Tomar, Sahil, Shrikant Jadhav, Surender Gill, Ashu Singh, Aashish Nagar, Bintu Narwal, Shubham Kumar, Gaurav Kumar, Sumit, Gurdeep, Nitin Panwar
UP Yoddha have made the knockout stage in all the three seasons they have played PKL. The team broke the bank this time around and signed ‘dubki king’ Pardeep Narwal for Rs 1.65 crore, making him the most expensive player in the League’s history. Power raider Shrikant Jadhav has been retained by the team and may form a formidable partnership with Narwal. One of the reasons the UP team has done well consistently is Nitesh Kumar. The right corner, famous for ankle holds, became the first defender to score a hundred points in a PKL season in 2018. Yoddhas will once again rely on him to give them the stability in defence.
Best performance: Third place (2015)
Team: Rohit Kumar (captain), Siddharth Desai, Amit Chauhan, Ankit Beniwal, Galla Raju, Hyunsu Park, Rajnish, Rakesh Gowda, Akash Dattu Arsul, Akash Choudhary, Manissh, Adarsh T, C Arun, Sandeep Kandola, Prince D, Ruturaj Koravi, Surinder Singh, Tetsuro Abe
Telugu Titans has always had stars. But their problem has always been getting the team to perform together over the length of the season. It is one of the two teams who has been in the PKL since it was established in 2014 but have never made the final. The Titans chose to retain star raider Siddharth Desai – the only crorepati in the 2021 auction other than Pardeep Narwal. Desai, who had starred for U Mumba in his breakout season in 2018, scored 220 points in 22 matches for the Titans last season. He will be supported by captain Rohit Kumar. C Arun, who plays in left cover, will be their pillar in defence. In a surprise move, the Telugu franchise brought back Sandeep Kandola. The left corner has played only one season – in 2015 – and will be eager to make up for lost time.
Jaipur Pink Panthers
Titles: 1 (2014)
Team: Deepak Niwas Hooda (captain), Dharmaraj Cheralathan, Amir Hossein Mohammadmaleki, Amit Hooda, Amit Kharb, Amit Nagar, Arjun Deshwal, Ashok, Elavarasan A, Mohammad Amin Nosrati, Naveen Dilbag, Nitin Rawal, Pavan TR, Sachin Narwal, Sandeep Dhull, Shaul Kumar, Sushil Gulia, Vishal Lather
Jaipur Pink Panthers have retained nine players from their 2019 roster, including captain Deepak Niwas Hooda. Hooda had struggled to live up to the ‘Crorepati’ price tag in the last edition and the team crumbled after a good start (seven wins from first 10 matches). All-rounder Nitin Rawal has shown in the past that he can rattle the best of defences and could be an important cog in the Pink Panthers machine. On paper, Jaipur has one of the better defences in the League. Their corner defenders - Amit Hooda (right) and Sandeep Dhull (left) – have forged a formidable partnership. Jaipur bolstered their defence by bringing in veteran Dharamraj Cherallathan.
Best performance: Final (2017, 2018)
Team: Parvesh Bhainswal (captain), Ajay Kumar, Ankit, Girish Maruti Ernak, Hadi Oshtorak, Harmanjit Singh, Harshit Yadav, Mahender Rajput, Maninder Singh, Pardeep Kumar, Sunil Kumar, Rathan K, Ravinder Pahal, Soleiman Pahlevani, Sonu, Sumit
While the Gujarat Giants (formerly known as the Gujarat Fortune Giants) have opted for a young raiding squad, they have retained two of their talismans: Sunil Kumar and Parvesh Bhainswal. The cover defenders, who are also cousins, have proved to be one of the best combos in the League and played an important part in the team reaching the finals in their first two years in the League. Gujarat have added to their defensive prowess by bringing in the dogged Girish Maruti Ernak, Ravinder Pahal and Irani veteran Hadi Oshtorak. Mahender Rajput is the most experienced raider in the squad.
Best performance: Third (2016, January)
Team: Nitin Tomar (captain), Abinesh Nadarajan, Balasaheb Shahaji Jadhav, Baldev Singh, E Subash, Govind Gurjar, Hadi Tajik, Karamvir, Mohit Goyat, Pankaj Mohite, Pawan Kumar Kadian, Rahul Chaudhari, Sanket Sawant, Sombir, Sourav Kumar, Victor Onyango Obiero, Vishal Bhardwaj, Vishwas S
Anup Kumar’s stint as coach had started off on a disappointing note as Puneri Paltan failed to make the playoffs in 2019. In an attempt to bounce back, the Pune franchise has brought in proven PKL talent like Rahul Chaudhari (raider) and Vishal Bhardwaj (defender). Even though captain and lead raider Nitin Tomar missed a lot of the matches due to injury in 2019, Pune have retained him. The former wrestler will be hoping to stamp his authority on the league once again. Pune will have to punch above their weight if they are to make the playoffs this time around.
Best performance: Never made the playoffs
Team: Surjeet Singh (Captain), Ajinkya Ashok Pawar, Anwar Saheed Baba, Athul Ms, Bhavani Rajput, Himanshu, K. Prapanjan, M. Abishek, Manjeet, Mohammad Tuhin Tarafder, Sagar, Sagar B. Krishna, Sahil, Santhapanaselvam, Sourabh Tanaji Patil
Since they entered PKL in 2017, the Tamil Thalaivas have struggled to keep pace with the rest. They finished at the bottom of the leaderboard last year and have let go of their star players like Ajay Thakur, Rahul Chaudhari and Manjeet Chhillar. They don’t have too many match-winners in the squad this time around. But in captain Surjeet Singh, they have one of the best cover defenders in the League. He has also proved to be an inspiring leader in the past, having captained Bengal Warriors and Puneri Paltan. Manjeet and K Prapanjan have proved to be effective support raiders in the past but at least one of them will have to step up for the Thalaivas to turn the tide.