Puneri Paltan coach Ashok Shinde has called for support from fans as the team looks to hit back on home turf after a slow start to the third season of Pro Kabaddi League. Paltan has managed only one win in three games so far and is on the verge of a third consecutive dismal season if the downfall goes unchecked. Shinde addressed fans Wednesday saying they shouldn’t write off the team so soon. “We know that the patience is wearing thin, but our performance is not too bad either. We’ve won a game with a margin of 18 points and lost the other two with comparatively small margins respectively of one and five. The tournament is long and there are at least a dozen games to go. We can definitely do better,” said Shinde.
This is Shinde’s second season in charge of Puneri Paltan and the owners have tightened the noose by setting the target of semifinal spot in front of the coach, after heavy investment that saw players like Manjeet Chillar, Ajay Thakur, Prashant Chavan and Deepak Hooda arrive on the team. But the new signings have not lived up to the expectations so far, which has seen Pune drop points against Telugu Titans and Bengal Warriors. On the other hand, less fancied teams like Patna Pirates, who will face Paltan in their first home match, have continued their unbeaten run in the season, surprising many. “These are turbulent times. We all hope that the team does better for the fans who have supported us despite our failure,” said team manager Kailash Kandpal.
Though Shinde has admitted that there was something wrong with the team last season, he has a firm conviction that this season will be better. However, he has not clearly stated the reasons for the failure of the team so far, which could range from gelling problems to nagging injury woes to last minute nerves. “We fall short in the last minutes of the game. But we’ve been working on it for some time,” said Shinde.
Hooda, Narwal absence
Pune’s woes have been intensified by the fact that star young player Deepak Hooda and Surjit Narwal have both left the team for South Asian Games, taking place in Guwahati. Hooda has had the biggest share in raids so far, while Narwal has been an integral part of the defence line. Their absence can cause Paltan headache, but coach Shinde suggests that there are apt replacements. “Except Jaipur, Bengaluru and Bengal, all teams have lost 2-3 players due to SAG. But we have replacements. Experienced Ajay Thakur can replace Hooda in raids, while Narwal’s place can be taken by Somveer or Ravi Kumar,” said Shinde. Senior player Ajay Thakur, who played for Bengaluru and was among the top 10 raiders last season, said that fans shouldn’t be worried about the performances of the experienced players. “I’ll be raiding more often now as Hooda won’t be there. Hopefully, we’ll be able to turn the tables,” said Thakur.