Bengaluru Bulls coach BC Ramesh calls him ‘their Usain Bolt’.
The way Pawan Kumar Sehrawat burst through the Pro Kabaddi League VI final on Saturday at the NSCI, dragging his team along with him and leaving the Gujarat Fortunegiants gasping in his wake, could you fault Ramesh’s outlandish assessment?
On the biggest occasion of his emergent career, Sehrawat had the biggest game of his life, scoring 22 points to hand his team a 38-33 victory — and their first PKL title — over the Gujarat Fortunegiants, who have now lost two finals in a row.
To put in context Sehrawat’s night, Bengaluru’s second highest scorer was Sumit Singh with three points, while captain Rohit Kumar, the second most expensive player of last season’s draft, ended the night with one point. Kashiling Adake was not even needed, the veteran getting just one raid on the night, which to be fair brought home two points, before he was substituted. Adake had to be content with watching the action from the bench for most of the match — a feeling Sehrawat knows all too well, having spent the last PKL final sitting on the Fotunegiants bench.
It was the perfect stage for the perfect redemption story: A player surplus to requirements only last season at the Fortunegiants comes back with another team to scythe through his former team, which had considered him good enough just for one raid in the Season V finale, where they were drubbed 38-55 by the Patna Pirates. The Pirates’ Pardeep Narwal had racked up 19 points on that balmy Chennai night while the Fotunegiants were left searching for answers.
If only they knew, the answer sat right on their bench in the form of a 21-year-old.
“Last year, when I was playing in the final, I spent most of it sitting on the bench. I was given the chance to make one raid. If they had given me more chances then…,” said Sehrawat.
Season V was so demoralising for Sehrawat that he had considered quitting the league altogether. He had been restricted to bit-part roles in games for Gujarat, with his nine appearances bringing home 10 points. The season before that too, he had played just 10 games for the Bengaluru Bulls, scoring 11 points.
“Before the auctions, coach (Randhir Singh) came to my village to talk to me and kept assuring me that they would buy me in the auctions. They even held training sessions for me before the auctions took place,” said Sehrawat.
Despite the faith, Bengaluru coach Randhir says Sehrawat was never the player who was at the centre of his strategy for the season.
"Jab maine team banayi thi, toh Pawan hero nahi tha. Meri team ka ek hero tha: Rohit. (When I made the team, Pawan was not the player I centred the team around. That was Rohit)," said Randhir.
Yet as the season progressed, Sehrawat was centrestage, more often than not.
Randhir and Sehrawat both admitted that this is due to the captaincy of Rohit, who had restricted himself to just three raids in the second half.
“Before this, he was a good player, but a bad captain. Today, he has shown that he can be a good captain too,” says Randhir, who went on to add that Rohit was second to only Anup Kumar when it comes to selfless captaincy.
"Not just this match, throughout the season, he has pushed Pawan to go and raid, even if it meant he took a backseat," the coach said.
It was a final where the Gujarat Fortunegiants had dominated from the start. While both team were neck-to-neck till 6-6, the Gujarat franchise had raced to a 16-9 lead by half-time. Seven minutes into the second half, they were up 20-14.
But this was also the half Sehrawat was starting to make things happen. Quickly. In his 18 forays into the Gujarat Fortunegiants territory in the second period, Sehrawat was captured only in the first raid, with the rest of the 17 bringing home points on 16 raids.
By the time there were 8:45 left on the clock, the Bulls had edged ahead at 23-22.
“We played well for the entire match, but we couldn’t control the game in the last seven minutes or so,” admitted Fortunegiants coach Manpreet Singh, “Our defence, which has been our strength for all of our season, failed completely in the last seven-eight minutes.
“In the second half, Pawan accelerated the pace of the game by touching one man and running back. We must have dominated some 35 minutes of that 40-minute final.”
Manpreet added: “Our raiders had been told to play with five players on the mat. The instructions to them were: get a bonus, but get out as well. This was so that when we are defending with five men, the bonus is not available to them. But our raiders forgot this simple instruction.
“When the match was started, we had planned to keep Pawan and Rohit in check. Both of them are complete raiders. The strategy for Rohit was to lunge at him as soon as he got a touch. While we wanted our defenders to play really close to Pawan when he was raiding. The first few points that Pawan had were essentially touch points. You cannot do much for a raider’s touch. Although we did stop him from getting away with two-three points on every raid or walking back with a bonus point.”
Eventually, that was not enough. Like Usain Bolt, Sehrawat raced away from the clutches of the Gujarat Fortunegiants defenders time and again to give Bengaluru Bulls the title.
Updated Date: Jan 06, 2019 15:47:21 IST