Pro Kabaddi League ushers in first wave of crorepatis as teams show their cold and calculated side
Even as Indian kabaddi’s first generation of crorepatis emerged, it felt like an end of era for some. Three of the biggest names on which the League had stood in the opening season were not on the teams’ to-buy list anymore.
Since its launch in 2014, the Pro Kabaddi League has grown exponentially, more than others of the franchise-based kind. The striding progress was evident as they set about, on Wednesday evening, to not just breach the glass ceiling, but shatter it. One by one, six players fetched a price of a crore or more, much to the delight and surprise of the watching audience.
It began with Iranian defender Fazel Atrachali going to U Mumba for Rs 1 crore and finished with a frenzied bidding for Monu Goyat, with Haryana Steelers sealing the deal at Rs 1.51 crore. Not bad for an indigenous sport, which till four years ago was only a distant dot on the sporting conscience of the country.
At the first PKL auction, in 2014, the owners’ purse was a mere Rs 60 lakh while former India captain Rakesh Kumar was the highest paid player at Rs 12.8 lakh. Those feel like humble beginnings of a bygone era.
When the teams met for the fourth PKL auction, second in as many years, on Wednesday at a luxury hotel in Mumbai — for those are Indian kabaddi’s natural surroundings now — it was expected that a crorepati was in the making. After all, debutant team Uttar Pradesh Yoddhas had bought strongman Nitin Tomar for a whopping Rs 93 lakh last year.
Less than half an hour into the auction on Wednesday, that record was already broken. U Mumba, who are on a mission to rebuild, made their first kill by signing on Atrachali for Rs 1 crore. All bets were off then.
“He deserves it. But if they are paying Rs 1 crore for a foreign defender, imagine how much Indian raiders will cost,” said Tamil Thalaivas coach E Bhaskaran, who had given Atrachali his PKL debut in the second season at U Mumba. “He is a superb defender. He can work with a team, but he works well on his own also. Fazel can go for a tackle alone, without much support, and still pull it off. He has that power. But in the end a defender can bring you about 60-70 points in a season, compared to 200 plus by the raiders.”
When the auction resumed for the domestic players, all-rounder Deepak Niwas Hooda was the first Indian to fetch a crore. Placed at a base price of Rs 20 lakh, bidding for him began straight at Rs 70 lakh, such was the demand of the former Pune player. Abhishek Bachchan’s Jaipur Pink Panthers bagged him for Rs 1.15 crore. Tomar, a navy-man with a wrestling background, went for an identical sum to Puneri Paltan.
But as Bhaskaran had anticipated, it were the raiders that piqued the owners’ interest most. All the big teams were in the hunt, hoping to strengthen their raiding units, especially with proven talents like Rahul Chaudhuri and Rishank Devadiga involved. Having failed to agree to a price to retain the players, Chaudhuri and Devadiga were put back on the market by the Telugu Titans and the Yoddhas respectively.
Dabang Delhi managed to name a better price than U Mumba, Patna Pirates and Haryana Steelers and bag their first big player of the night, when they got the agile Devadiga for Rs 1.11 crore. But the Yodhas exercised their Final Bid Match (similar to Indian Premier League’s Right to Match) to retain him. It was the same with Chaudhuri, who has been the League’s poster boy and one of the most prolific scorers since the first season. After a bidding war over him, the Titans swooped in and retained him for Rs 1.29 crore.
“In the hindsight, yes, we might have been able to retain him for less,” said one of the Yoddhas owners Hemant Dua about the Devadiga pick. “But it could have hampered the overall team strategy if we had gone into the auction with our prize purse already reduced by that much. Also, this has been a pleasant discovery for us. This is his fair market price, and we are happy to pay him that.”
As the number of reliable raiders on the market kept depleting, desperation started to creep in. Monu Goyat had done exceedingly well for the Patna Pirates last season, working well with Pardeep Narwal to turn the team into one of the strongest raiding units. With Patna holding on to Narwal, the teams made a beeline for the 25-year-old from Bhiwani. The Haryana Steelers, with a price tag of Rs 1.51 crore, drove all the other suitors away, making Goyat the priciest player in PKL history, by quite a margin.
“He is a very good student,” Steelers coach Rambir Singh Khokhar said of the Services player. “He is one of the fittest players around and very disciplined.”
Even as Indian kabaddi’s first generation of crorepatis emerged, it felt like an end of era for some. Three of the biggest names on which the League had stood in the opening season were not on the teams’ to-buy list anymore. The face of Indian kabaddi for the past four years, Anup Kumar, went for Rs 30 lakh to the Pink Panthers, and U Mumba refused to buy back their captain cool for such a steal. There were no teams ready to go beyond the base price of Rs 20 lakh for all-rounder Manjeet Chillar, with the Thalaivas bagging him for that. Rakesh Kumar, the most-sought after player in the first auction, has been relegated to Category B after missing out most of last season due to injury. There was no time for nostalgia in the cold, calculated corporate world of sporting extravaganza.
Pro Kabaddi has moved on, and moved up.
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