Pro Kabbadi League 2018: Maharashtra teams Puneri Paltan, U Mumba a notch above the rest, but still have long way to go
Maharashtra's Puneri Paltan and U Mumba have got a head start in the three-month league, but there’s still a long way to go.
With a kabaddi culture rooted in mud, Maharashtra is a major hub of the sport in India. Players from the state were the first to take kabaddi to a world stage when a few members of the Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal, Amaravati, Maharashtra demonstrated the game at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In January this year, Maharashtra ended an 11-year drought to win the Senior National Kabaddi Championships.
Pedigree means little in the glamorous topsy-turvy world of the Pro Kabaddi League. But the two franchises from the state have emerged as the early leaders in the three-month league. Just as well that two home-bred talents – Girish Ernak and Siddharth Desai—were the lead protagonists for their respective teams when the PKL caravan travelled to the state’s cultural capital Pune.
Puneri Paltan captain Ernak asserted himself as one of the best defenders in the country with an impressive performance at home. There is a streak of dare-devilry in the stocky left corner who is leading the defence charts with 29 points from nine matches. He has marshalled the defence well and has shown his versatility by playing as a cover when required. Pune’s defensive unit made all the difference during their narrow wins over U Mumba (33-32) and Bengaluru Bulls (27-25) on successive days.
Taking a cue from Iran’s Asian Games playbook, the team made the presence of three or less defenders on the mat a strength by effecting crucial super tackles. Pune has the most – 15—super tackles in the League so far. Ernak has three super tackles in nine matches, while teammate Ravi Kumar (right cover) has four from 10 matches.
For U Mumba, Siddharth Desai has been the game changer. The 6’2 raider has the reach, the speed and the skill to take on any defence. In his first six matches of Pro Kabaddi, he has already accumulated 83 raid points. He is second only to Pune’s Nitin Tomar (94 from 10 matches) on the leaderboard.
Debutant Desai, who hails from a village in Kolhapur, had become the fastest to get to fifty raid points (4 matches) in Sonepat last week. And the 26-year-old continued to keep pace in Pune, leading U Mumba’s fightback against the Puneri Paltan in the first game and then rolling over Telugu Titans in the next. In six matches so far, he has scored five Super 10s.
In Tuesday’s game, Telugu’s Rahul Chaudhari became the first raider in PKL to reach 700 raid points. But Desai crashed that party, earning 17 raid points to help his team to a dominating 41-20 victory. Abozar Mighani has been Telugu’s pillar of strength in the right corner. But the Iranian was forced to sit out of the crucial clash with a hand injury. Desai exploited that gaping weakness in the Telugu defence and by the last quarter of the game, he was scoring points for fun. In 19 raid attempts on the day, he was unsuccessful only once.
Given Desai’s heroics, U Mumba are rocking the scoring charts. After six games, they have a score difference of 64, which is more than the sum of others with a positive score difference. Pune are currently leading Zone A with 32 points from 10 matches, with U Mumba second on 24 from six matches. That’s not just the best in their group but also the League. In Zone B, Bengaluru Bulls are at the top with 16 points from five matches.
There is also an interesting rivalry developing between the two Maharashtra teams. While they played out a 32-32 tie in the first match, the second was almost just as close. In an exciting contest, where the momentum swung by the minute, Pune pipped U Mumba 33-32 to hand the Mumbai franchise their first defeat.
Pune did buck the trend of teams struggling at home by recording some impressive wins. But they finished their home leg with two successive defeats. The hosts went down 31-36 to Tamil Thalaivas on Tuesday and rested some of their players for the clash against the UP Yoddhas and lost 23-29. It may not affect Pune adversely in the long run, but the two results will go a long way in restoring the confidence of Tamil Thalaivas and UP Yoddhas.
The Thalaivas had suffered five straight defeats before coming to Pune and desperately needed a win to get their campaign back on track. Their old guard of Ajay Thakur (12 raid points), Manjeet Chillar (4 tackle points) and Jasvir Singh (8 total points) delivered on the day to beat a high-flying Pune team 36-31. It was noisy, it was chaotic, Tamil even lost points was the constant chatter on the mat, but they got the job done.
UP Yoddhas also scored only their second win in six matches, their raiders coming good to help them to a 29-23 victory. While UP has a promising raiding unit in Rishank Devadiga, Shrikant Jadhav and Prashant Rai, it was the disorganized defence that had been letting them down. But they put on a much more disciplined show against Pune, outscoring them nine to five.
With Ernak rested for the game, the scaled were tipped slightly against Puneri Paltan. That delicate balance is the make or break in a competitive league like this. Pune and U Mumba have got a head start, but there’s still a long way to go.
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