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Pro Kabaddi League Stage Wrap Up

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There were two unbeaten streaks in the 2016 Star Sports Pro Kabaddi. Patna Pirates started the season by winning eight of their first 10 games and drawing the other two. That put them on top of the points table, a position they held until the last game of the last leg in Mumbai.

The team that supplanted them, defending champions U Mumba, went two better by finishing the season with a 10 game winning streak, a new PKL record. The 50 points they picked up gave them 60 for the season, two better than Patna Pirate’s total of 58.

The other two semi-finalists – Puneri Paltan and Bengal Warriors – also met on the final day of the season and Puneri Paltan’s win lifted them to third and demoted Bengal Warriors to fourth in the table.

That the final four places were decided on the final days shows just how exciting and unpredictable Star Sports Pro Kabaddi season 3 has been. Puneri Paltan and Bengal Warriors are also first time semi-finalists, thereby giving their fans a thrill they have never experienced before.

Individually too, there were plenty of surprises as new faces such as Pardeep Narwal and Nitin Tomar burst on the scene while international players who have been around such as South Korean Jang Kun Lee and Iranian Fazel Atrachali began to assert themselves and play crucial roles for their teams.

Here are some highlights from a topsy-turvy league season in which four different teams topped the table at some stage:

U Mumba does it again

When U Mumba headed home to Mumbai for the final leg, they had a slim chance of finishing top of the table. They not only needed to win their last four games, which would set a new league record for consecutive wins, but needed Patna Pirates, who had lost only once all season (to  U Mumba) to lose their last match against Telugu Titans.

Somehow the stars aligned in Mumba’s favour. Despite Pardeep Narwal, the league’s leading raider, scoring a record 24 points against Telugu Titans, Patna lost a one-point thriller 42 – 41. Meanwhile U Mumba faced two potentially tricky matches – the first against Puneri Paltan and the other against the Titans, two teams fighting for play-off spots as well.

After a comfortable 35 – 21 win over Jaipur Pink Panthers, U Mumba ran into trouble. For 38 minutes, it looked like Puneri Paltan would spoil the home team’s party. But captain fantastic Anup Kumar decided he wasn’t going to let his team lose. After his team had cut a three-point deficit to one, Anup Kumar struck twice. The first time to level the scores, the second to secure an All-Out and give his team a three-point lead with less than 60 seconds on the clock.

The winning streak was preserved as U Mumba won 30 – 27. They would not make the same mistakes against the Telugu Titans.  Rishank Devadiga sauntered his way to 14 raid points, Mohit Chhillar picked up six tackle points, and Mumba ran away with game in the second half to win 38 -22.

Their final game against Dabang Delhi K.C, which won just once all season, was for all intents and purposes, a foregone conclusion, and U Mumba rolled to a 36 – 20 win.

Many thought the team would be vulnerable when they lost four players to national duty at the South Asian Games in February, including Anup Kumar. Instead, the team, led by stand-in skipper Rakesh Kumar, rallied and launched the winning streak that Anup Kumar and the others would help complete as the cream of the PKL once again rose to the top.

Bengal Warriors and Puneri Paltan flip their fortunes

Bengal Warriors and Puneri Paltan were two of the three teams in the league in the first two seasons that were not performing up to the mark. Over two years, they had combined to win 12 total games between them. Or the same number U Mumba won this season alone.

Both teams were determined to change that narrative but went about it in very different ways. The Puneri Paltan revamped their team, bringing in established stars such as Manjeet Chhillar and Ajay Thakur. The Bengal Warriors focused on improving the skills of the players they already had while also benefitting from the addition of 20-year-old Nitin Tomar, who was part of the draft of Services players picked for the first time this year.

The two different approaches reflected the trajectories of their seasons. Having the benefit of continuity, the Bengal Warriors won five of their first six games. Puneri Paltan won just one of their first six. Then the Puneri Paltan team got it together to win six of their final eight (losing just once) while Bengal Warriors, which lost star raider Nitin Tomar to injury, could only manage to win four of their last eight.

The differing routes, though, led to the same destination – the play-offs.

Rise of the young raiders

Pardeep Narwal (106), Rishank Devadiga (94) and Rahul Chaudhari (87) finished first, second and fourth in raiding points table. They are 19 years old, 22 years old and 22 years old respectively. Twenty-year old Nitin Tomar (69), who was leading the league in raid points until he got injured, finished seventh. His team-mate, 23-year old Jang Kun Lee (71), finished sixth.

Each of them brought their own distinctive raiding styles, with Pardeep Narwal standing out with his ability to pull off a ‘dubki’, which requires the raider to duck under the chain formed by two raiders holding hands. Nitin Tomar’s speciality is the flying kick with the left leg while Rahul Chaudhari’s signature is the running hand touch.

Raiding requires speed, strength, flexibility and agility. At least this season, it was no task for old(er) men.

Patna Pirates’ record-breaking turn

Patna benefited from having two sparking raiders in their side in Pardeep Narwal and Rohit Kumar. Pardeep Narwal led the league with while Rohit Kumar was third with 88. Rohit also led the league in successful raids per match with 7.1.

With this much firepower, Patna were going to threaten a few records and it all came together against Dabang Delhi K.C. in their penultimate game. Rohit Kumar led the way with 15 raid points while Pardeep Narwal adding seven in just the first half (from nine raids) as the Pirates ransacked their way to 67 point, setting a new single-game record.

That wasn’t all either. Pardeep Narwal had already set a single-raid record with six points against Telugu Titans, taking out four defenders and picking up two bonus points for the resulting All-Out. In his team’s next game against Telugu Titans, with Rahul Chaudhari missing because of injury, Pardeep Narwal raided at will to pick up 24 points, tying the single-game record for a raider (though Patna lost the game by one point).

The internationals star to make their presence felt

South Korean Jang Kun Lee was the leading points scorer for the Bengal Warriors. Iranian Fazel Atrachali was the defensive spark that lit U Mumba’s fire this season. Another Iranian, Meraj Sheykh, who became the first foreign player to captain a side last season, was an influential defender for Telugu Titans.

While the list isn’t a long one, it sends a powerful message and has the potential to be transformational. It is powerful because it inspires teams to take chances on players they might not otherwise risk. It also has the potential to spread the game beyond its traditional boundaries. While kabaddi is an Indian sport, successful foreign players add an extra dimension to the league and bring in their own kabaddi culture and skills, thereby enriching Star Sports Pro Kabaddi. We wait as the action moves to Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Delhi where the champion will be crowned on 5th March 2016.