As the first team of superstars in India’s Pro Kabaddi League, U Mumba enjoy a pride of place in the league. And the team is showing championship form again after underwhelming performances in the last two seasons.
In Iran’s Gholamreza Mazandarani and Fazel Atrachali they have a coach-captain combination that plotted possibly the biggest upset in the sport. They were at the helm of affairs when Iran brought down the mighty Indians in the semi-final of the 2018 Asian Games in Incheon and eventually romped to a gold medal finish. The intellectual influence of Mazandarani and Atrachali has been vital for U Mumba’s turnaround this season.
Led by the talismanic Anup Kumar, U Mumba had made the final of the first three seasons, including a title in the second season in 2015. But the team struggled to live up to the expectations in the next two editions, failing to make even the playoffs. The team management opted for a complete overhaul in 2018, appointing Mazandarani as their head coach — the first foreign coach in the league — and then targeted Atrachali at the auctions. They signed on the strong left corner defender for Rs 1 crore — a record at the time.
“We had to reinvent ourselves,” U Mumba CEO Supratik Sen said ahead of the season. “We weren’t getting to the finals, we weren’t getting to the playoffs. So we went back to the drawing board, cleaned the slate and then looked at how we could go on from there. That’s how we got this team.”
Two weeks into Season 6, U Mumba have already staked a claim as the team to beat. After a 32-32 tie with Puneri Paltan in their opening game, they have won three matches in a row. On Saturday, they defeated hosts Haryana Steelers 53-26 to score their biggest win in the League by points margin. They are currently atop Zone A with 18 points from four matches.
Fastest fifty first
While there have been some magical moments from the captain (16 tackle points so far), raider Siddharth Desai has been the revelation. The tall lad from Kolhapur has spearheaded his team’s young raiding department and bulldozed defences. In the second game against Haryana on Wednesday, he earned 15 raid points to clock his half-century in the League. Desai, who now has 51 raid points, got to the milestone in only four matches. The fastest to 50 raid points before him were stalwarts Anup Kumar and Ajay Thakur, who needed five matches each.
The 27-year-old PKL debutant has made the most of his height, power and his massive wingspan to bring down defenders. All of it was on display against Haryana on Wednesday, when he managed to sneak a hand past the mid-line while in the grips of all four Haryana players on the mat. The six-pointer changed the game decisively in U Mumba’s favour as they won the encounter 42-32.
Desai’s exploits have also energised teammate, and fellow rookie, Abhishek Singh. The 19-year-old has 21 raid points in four matches and is being honed into a do-or-die specialist at the Mumbai franchise.
Crown of thorns
Even though Atrachali struggled in the second match against Haryana, he had been flawless in the first when U Mumba won by 27 points. The big-built Iranian, who is also a part-time wrestler, pulled off seven out of seven tackles, including three solo efforts. More importantly, he had Monu Goyat’s number.
Goyat has already been under intense scrutiny since he became the League’s most expensive player in June, when he was acquired by the Steelers for a whopping Rs 1.51 crore. Pressure piled on when he was made to take over captaincy from an injured Surender Nada. And the man from Bhiwani, who turned 26 during Haryana’s home leg this week, has worn a hunted look. The team lost four of their six matches in Sonepat.
Last season, Goyat had the fortune of playing with the League’s most prolific raider — Pardeep Narwal — at Patna Pirates. As the second raider, he was free to take risks and test his limits and he did exceedingly well at that. But this season, given the payout, he has the triple whammy of being the side’s lead raider, captain and the most expensive player. The pressure was telling on Goyat in the home leg, especially in the first match against U Mumba, when after five unsuccessful raids, the captain was substituted.
He did pick up momentum in last two matches in Sonepat, scoring 15 raid points in 21 raids against U Mumba and seven against Delhi. After four defeats on the trot, Haryana finished their home leg with a 34-31 win over Dabang Delhi that brought the smile back on their fans, and their captain’s, face.
Mumbai’s state-mates, Puneri Paltan, are also close on their heels with 14 points from four matches. The Girish Ernak-led side has scored two big wins in their first four matches — 34-22 against Haryana, and 45-27 also against Haryana. Nitin Tomar, one of the six crorepatis of the league, has spearheaded their effort with 51 raid points in four matches.
While Bengaluru Bulls and Bengal Warriors have only played two matches each, they have a hundred percent strike rate so far. Bulls’ raider Pawan Kumar Sehrawat was once again in imposing form as the team beat beleaguered Tamil Thalaivas 44-35 on Wednesday. The youngster had 14 raid points, which takes his tally to 34 raid points in only two matches.
The team from Bengal has done enough to edge out the Thalaivas 36-27 in the opening game and then Telugu Titans 30-25 in the second. With the teams focused more on keeping big Korean Jang Kun Lee quiet, Maninder Singh has done most of the damage for Bengal.
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Updated Date: Oct 19, 2018 11:30:45 IST