It was time for another edition of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) towards the end of June 2016. Just a few months earlier, in March, the tournament had crowned its third different champion, Patna Pirates on this occasion, in as many seasons. Season 4 was to be the second installment in a three-leg program devised for the sport in the 2016 calendar year, with the World Cup scheduled for October.
But ahead of the fourth edition would come the event’s second player auction.
Each of the eight franchises had the option of retaining two players, and the auction purse was pushed up to Rs 2 crore. It was a value that allowed the owners to take up a slightly more aggressive tone in their bidding (the auction before the inaugural season had only a purse of only Rs 60 lakh), and as a result, the player purchase values shot up.
Eventually, U Mumba’s star corner defender Mohit Chhillar became the sport’s most expensive player, purchased for Rs 53 lakh by the Bengaluru Bulls — kabaddi’s first half crorepati.
U Mumba’s coveted lineup, that saw them reach the final in each of the previous three editions (they won the second) was one that was sought after, leaving the team significantly depleted. But it would be the defending champions Patna Pirates who would go on to become the first team to retain, and win a second PKL title.
Journey of the champions
The Pirates made a few interesting calls during the auction. The loss of maverick all-rounder Sandeep Narwal, and Season 3 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Rohit Kumar might have been cause for alarm. But the franchise made a crucial purchase by snapping up powerful Iranian defender Fazel Atrachali.
The team also went on to pick up veteran defender Dharmaraj Cheralathan. The 42-year-old, the oldest player in the tournament, brought with him a reputation of being an accomplished defender, and commanded the respect of both his teammates and opponents. ‘Anna,’ as he is fondly called, became the leader of the young team.
Former Jaipur Pink Panthers all-rounder Kuldeep Singh too swapped jerseys for the green of the Pirates.
The Patna outfit’s roster was quite different from the one that had won them the title a few months back. What remained the same however, was the hunger and prowess of teenage raider Pardeep Narwal. The best raider of Season 3 had the knack of providing his team with an explosive start, raking up touch points from the first whistle itself. He continued the trend, leading his team to five consecutive victories from the start of the season.
A few hiccups did come up midseason, with losses to Dabang Delhi and the Telugu Titans, but none that could stop the team from marching into the playoffs — that too after topping the table.
The semi-final against Puneri Paltan saw them win 37-33, but in the final they came across their biggest nemesis in the season. Only the Jaipur Pink Panthers had beaten the Pirates twice in the season.
With Jaipur winning the title in Season 1, and Patna capturing the crown in the third, PKL was poised to get its first two-time champion, and greatest-ever team.
The midseason wins for the Jaipur team gave them an edge, and helped them form strategies for the final. On the day, 31 July in Hyderabad, the tactics served them well, as they captured and relegated Pardeep to the bench in as early as the fourth minute.
By the seventh minute, the Pink Panthers had gained a 6-2 lead. But their grasp of the match would end there. If the Jaipur team had made their strategies against the Patna raiders, they didn’t seem to do much for Hadi Oshtorak in the defence. The Iranian had spent most of the season battling injury, and played only a small part in the first match against Jaipur during the group stages.
In the final though, he pulled off a few crucial blocks, including a super tackle that brought Pardeep back onto the mat. Thereon, the raider began his tormenting of the Jaipur defence. Only 10 minutes after the Panthers had first stopped him, Pardeep inflicted an all-out on the opposition.
It was a performance by the youngster that was sure to have granted him a spot in the national team for the World Cup. On the night, he marched into the Jaipur half 26 times, picked up 12 successful raids and was caught just twice. He also finished second-highest in the leaderboard for most raid points, picking up 131 points, second only to Rahul Chaudhari’s 146.
The Pirates eventually ran away with an eight-point win. And with it, they cemented their place as being the most successful team in the league, reaching the playoffs in all seasons, and winning it twice.
In his debut season, Ajay Kumar was given the task of relieving the pressure of raiding on Jaipur Pink Panthers skipper Jasvir Singh. The 23-year-old took up the challenge and dished out a series of impressive performances that bailed the team out at critical moments. In his 44 successful raids, he managed to pick up 61 points, along with the award for the ‘Emerging Player of the Season.’
Though Season 4 was not his debut season, the young all-rounder was given more responsibility and freedom. In Season 3, he was a part of the Bengaluru Bulls’ inexperienced and depleted squad. But with the addition of Surender Nada and Chhillar, the all-rounder had more room to work. He chipped in with 14 raid points in the season, but was strong in his cover defender duties, picking up 17 tackle points and providing assured supporting blocks to Nada and Chhillar. Ahead of the auctions in Season 5, the Bulls decided to retain him.
Significance of the season
At the beginning of the year, PKL was slated to become the first professional league to conduct two seasons in a year. Season 4 was the second installment that helped achieve the feat. Crucially though, since the edition was held just two months before the World Cup, the season was used as a scouting platform for the national team.
The success of the tournament led to a discussion over possible expansion in the number of franchises competing. As a result, four new teams signed up for Season 5, leading organisers to promote a longer league for 2017 rather than the two-season-a-year concept.
Updated Date: Jul 21, 2017 17:44 PM