“Here I am, dressed as a ringmaster,” Bob Hayton began, pulling up his scarlet jacket at a ballroom in the capital on Monday morning. The auctioneer, even though he has been the go-to man for India’s hockey, badminton and wrestling leagues, may have regretted his clothing later, as the Pro Kabaddi League auction for its season five lasted for more than 14 hours spread over two days.
Nobody else seems to be complaining though, for there are four more teams this season (totalling to 12, making PKL the country’s biggest sporting league), which means more players, viewers, venues, revenues and a big thrust toward India being a multi-sport culture. The auction, with its pool of over 360 players, was the biggest ever in PKL’s brief history and thanks to the Kabaddi World Cup that pretty much the same organisers hosted last October, it created interest in not just local talents but also foreign players.
While the franchisees had to keep up with mathematics and rules such as preferred picks and dynamic pricing, you do not have to. Here’s a low-down on who fared how, listed in order of auction performance…
The 2015 winners, hurting from their past auction debacle which led to their early exit in season four, played their cards astutely. They did not go after raiders Rakesh Kumar and Rishank Devadiga, captain Anup’s trusted lieutenants, rather invested in Kashiling Adake and Nitin Madane, both BPCL boys and Maharashtrians, and wooed back their star raider, Shabeer Bapu after a bid battle with Jaipur Pink Panthers. U Mumba’s creaky defence of last season won’t be so this time, with old hand Suresh Kumar and Iranian all-rounder Hadi in their fold. And with Dong Ju Hong, the man who led Korea to an upset win over India last World Cup, the Mumba-kars are back to being favourites for the title.
Jaipur Pink Panthers
Abhishek Bachchan’s franchise had not retained any player, which allowed them to splurge their purse at the auction. They did so on all-rounder Manjeet Chhillar, who will most probably lead the side and on Jasvir Singh, who they have invested in heavily from the past two seasons. They also snapped up Selvamani, the lanky raider who has been beleaguered Delhi’s lone star last two seasons, and Somvir Shekhar who has manned the right cover well for Pune. Jaipur being coached by Team India coach Balwan Singh gives them the edge, although how seniors such as Jasvir, Manjeet and the inexplicable pick Navneet Gautam fare on the fitness meter in this long season is a question.
The team behind Bengaluru FC has set foot in kabaddi and made fine first moves at the auction already. With Surender Nada and Mohit Chhillar, team India’s vital cogs, as their corners, they could have the finest defence among all while the raiding is in the hands of season one star Wazir Singh (injury-prone customer) and Services man Surjeet Singh. The Steelers’ foreign picks are arguably the most value-for-money, with Kenya captain David Mosambayi and Thailand captain Khomsan Thongkham being fine talents. Kabaddi is second nature to Haryanvi athletes and ingrained in their culture so if not on the turf, the team is surely set to create a flutter among viewers.
To fill up the Manjeet Chhillar-sized hole in their team, the Paltan has not really picked one player, but brought in two or three who can make up for his utility on court. Sandeep Narwal who helped Patna Pirates clinch season three is on board, so are Rajesh Mondal and Dharmaraj Cherlathan, also coming in from the two-time champion team. Their retained player Deepak Hooda is splendid on court but his team might still be found looking for an old hand when it comes to macro tactics and cold-blooded moves. Pune might just pull off a Delhi Daredevils this season, if you know what we mean.
The Kolkata team has been perennially dogged by the ‘talent without execution’ tag, and this season, after retaining star Korean raider Jang Kun Lee, got rid of their BPCL boys, defenders Nilesh Shinde and Vishal Mane. They will miss Shinde’s on-court calm, although they have got the super-fit Services man Surjeet Singh (Anup’s trusted defender last season) to man their defence. For the first time, the Warriors’ raiding could make more news, thanks to Lee and the spunky Ran Singh. On paper though, they still don’t seem like they have answered the question – who will step up if Lee has an off-day?
Team Uttar Pradesh
The yet to be named franchise of the GMR Group has made news for breaking their piggy bank to buy Nitin Tomar, the most expensive Pro Kabaddi player now. Along with U Mumba fame Rishank Devadiga (who had a tepid last season), their raiding seems formidable but there is nobody of note in the other department. SBI Mysore man Jeeva Kumar is high on experience and might, but has regularly fumbled in his cover position. UP have invested in youth too though, and will hope the month before the league begins, makes them a confident unit.
Team Hyderabad rightly retained their star raider and aspiring pop star Rahul Chaudhari this year and along with the formidable Arjuna awardee Rakesh Kumar, will bank on their raiding to win games. They could leak more than a few points in their defence though, for apart from former Panther Rohit Rana, the only remarkable defender they seem to have is Amit Chhillar who regularly erred for Delhi in season three and was subsequently dropped.
The Adanis will have the finest stadium among all, the magnificent TransStadia in Ahmedabad, but will their seven or ten men who don their jersey on big nights be as classy is the question. Their defence will have an Iranian flavour in six-pack man Fazel Atrachali and his compatriot Abozar Mighani who at 50 lakh was the most expensive foreign player. Sukesh Hegde and Amit Rathi have been fine raiders so far, but this time they will not have a senior raider to whisper tactics into their ears as they go over the line. This is the industrialists’ first sporting franchisee and it would be intriguing to see if they have the same aggression as they do in approaching a coal mine.
The capital’s team has been the kabaddi version of Delhi Daredevils in being laggards. This will be the first season when they will take the field without Kashiling Adake, who has single-handedly won them games on several occasions. Taking his place would be Rohit Baliyan and Ravi Dalal, of Bengaluru Bulls and Bengal Warriors respectively, but neither of them have stats or court presence that is as staggering as Kashi’s. However, with Meraj Sheykh, Iran’s version of Anup Kumar and Nilesh Shinde, their defensive strategy is going to be a mix of ballsy and calm. Dabangs will do anything to get to the elusive top four.
There are many answers to the question of why the Bulls did not retain one of the league’s finest raiders, Rohit Kumar, but as they bought him back, we don’t need them. They picked up former Panther Ajay Kumar for a hefty 48.50 lakh and the raider, if he continues his season four form, could bring the Bulls some victories, which they sorely need from the past two seasons. Leading their defence would be ex-Delhi captain Ravinder Pahal who has iron hands but may be not as feisty in attitude. Bulls are another team that have invested heavily in young players, and will need to toil hard in the weeks prior to the season to ensure they are battle-ready.
Team Tamil Nadu
The Tendulkar co-owned team got the Man of the World Cup 2016 final, Ajay Thakur as a Priority Pick but in the auction that followed, did no purchase of note. They are another defender-heavy team, with Amit Hooda and Sanket Chavan touted to use their PKL experience, but they seem to lack other raiders who can get them into the 30s and 40s on match days. The only company Thakur could get is from local boy K Prapanjan, who has spent a lot of time on the U Mumba side-lines with coach Bhaskaran.
Who would have thought that the team that has won PKL twice in a row now will have an off-day at the auction? Their retention of Pardeep Narwal was a no brainer, but they seem to let many other raiders out of their grip on both days of the bidding. Worse, were locked in a battle for Rohit Kumar with the Bulls but controversially lost it for not having caught auctioneer Hayton’s attention before the hammer went down. The Pirates are now left with semi-experienced all-rounders and defenders for Narwal to lead, so the spirited management will definitely need to fire up the new boys to defend their title.
Updated Date: May 24, 2017 20:51 PM