The business-end of the 65th Senior National Kabaddi Championship was predictably an affair where newly-born icons of the sport, courtesy of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), locked horns in search of the traditional holy grail of kabaddi. For all the fanfare that PKL generates, the Kabaddi Nationals is regarded by purists and players alike as the pinnacle of the sport in the country.
Thursday's nerve-wracking and hard-fought quarter-final ties put doubts over the significance of the competition, if any, to bed.
Karnataka crushed Pardeep Narwal-led Uttarakhand 51-31, while Maharashtra saw off a spirited Uttar Pradesh 44-36. Star-studded Haryana were given a massive scare by a youthful Rajasthan in a 31-29 triumph for Anup Kumar's boys. In the final encounter, a strong second-half show from defending champions Services derailed Railways' charge to record a 51-40 victory.
The margins of victory may have varied from game to game, but there was not much difference in the romance that every tie produced. Be it the timely coming of age of young Maharashtrain defender Rururaj Koravi or the last-gasp bravado of the seasoned Manjeet Chhillar, the evening had truly bewildering moments in good supply.
Prolific Prashanth Kumar Rai spoils Pardeep Narwal's script
Uttarakhand versus Karnataka tie was supposed to another one of Pardeep's heroic tales where he would carry a fairly average team to victory against all odds. But Karnataka's Prashanth Kumar Rai didn't just pip Pardeep to the protagonists' role but also wrote his own script. There was no fairytale this time for dupki king against a Sukesh Hegde-led side as the Gujarat Fortunegiants skipper avenged his side loss in the PKL final that was largely down to Pardeep's heroics.
But on Thursday, it was Rai who terrorised Uttarakhand defence from minute one to last and racked up 20 points to his name by the end of the game. Pardeep was left to wage a lonely battle and despite grabbing a high 5, his efforts were nominal in comparison to Rai's contribution.
Coincidentally, the difference between the two teams was 20 points, and in other terms, Prashanth Kumar Rai. Pardeep may be the undisputed king when it comes to running a one-man show, but on the day, Prashanth was the Pardeep.
Nitin Madane steals Rahul Chaudhari's thunder
Just like Pardeep, Rahul Chaudhari is another man famous for making things happen all by himself. Leading a young Uttar Pradesh side, Chaudhari's need to be himself was paramount. Having got off to a flying start, it appeared to be Chaudhari's day, but after suffering three super tackles in a row, things started heading south for the Telugu Titans captain and his UP side. An early second-half resurgence renewed hopes of securing a semi-final berth, but Nitin Madane changed all that in a flash.
Pretty much against the run of play, Madane came away with a 4-point raid to turn the game on its head and bring up his own Super 10 just like Chaudhari had done few minutes before. Thereafter, it was the Madane show and Chaudhari had to make do with a place on the bench and an obvious backseat in the contest of the two raiders for a large part of the dying minutes.
Chaudhari almost pulled a rabbit out of the hat for UP, but Madane stole his thunder to put Maharashtra in the last four.
'Galactico' Haryana survive Rajasthan scare
If there was ever an equivalent of Real Madrid's Galacticos in kabaddi, the Haryana team would come very close. Led by the iconic Anup Kumar, the team from the kabaddi-crazy state featured stars like Manjeet, Sandeep Narwal, Surender Nada, Vinod Kumar and Rajesh Narwal. With such a formidable line-up, Haryana were expected to steamroll Rajasthan despite them possessing few noted names like Sachin Tawar, Deepak Niwas Hooda and Wazir Singh.
However, the spirited Rajasthan weren't intimidated by Anup and Co and never let them get away. In fact, Rajasthan claimed crucial points despite being down to just two men to sneak into the lead with only a few minutes left to play. It was only in final minute of the game that Manjeet managed to dismiss Deepak Hooda through a brilliant raid that Haryana forced a late all-out and eked out a win.
Haryana's might may have prevailed in the end, but Rajasthan can walk away with pride for stretching Haryana all the way.
Services rally to down Railways
Defending champions Services overcame a poor first-half performance to send Railways packing. The Services defence, led by the impressive Surjeet, came to the fore in the second half to completely dismantle Railways' raiding force.
SF 1: Karnataka vs Maharashtra
SF 2: Haryana vs Services
Updated Date: Jan 05, 2018 09:33 AM