With the second edition of Pro Kabaddi League to begin from Saturday, The Indian Express takes a look at how the eight franchises have shaped up:
It’s not like Delhi didn’t get into winning positions with their Dabang style of play during Season 1. It’s just that they couldn’t hold on to their half-leads, losing steam mid-way. To the extent that it became their penchant. That could change this year around though with the arrival of 26-year-old Manikandan, a diminutive livewire, who is known to be deceptively powerful with the ability to time his tackles to perfection. The Tamil Nadu native, who is sure to have the likes of Ajay Thakur and Rakesh Kumar in his sights, could also be exactly the antidote or more specifically the energy-boost in their midst to ensure that their momentum doesn’t drop.
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It would be safe to say that the frog-leap became a signature of not just Ajay Thakur — the protagonist of the distinctive move — but of the Bengaluru Bulls franchise. An untimely illness rendered Thakur unavailable for most of the season, leaving the side with almost no alternate option for raiding. They hope 21-year-old Vinoth Kumar will fill the void this season. Despite lacking the experience of Thakur, the agile youngster can be a perfect foil for his senior – Thakur is a right sided raider while Kumar starts on the left. Meanwhile, the introduction of the experienced Joginder Narwal, once considered India material but for an injury in 2010 further strengthens an already shrewd defence.
The Titans spent Rs 41.2 lakh to acquire the services of attack-minded Iranian all-rounders Hadi Oshtorak and Meraj Sheykh. And just for the money they have shelled out, it can safely be assumed that the pair will be in the starting seven. However, it would also mean that they will have to break their raider-trio of Rahul Chaudhari, Sukesh Hegde and Deepak Hooda, which reaped rich rewards last season. The Titans’ shortcomings from last year were in their defence. The signing of 18-year-old Sandeep Dhull, already famous for a strong ankle-hold, will bolster the frail defence.
Injuries proved to be the biggest deterrent for the Mumbai-franchise, who lost the services of raider Shabeer Sharfudheen and key defender Jeeva Kumar midway through last season. Sharfudheen is currently recovering from a fractured arm and is likely to miss the opening stages this season as well. But in K Prapanjan, they claim to have found a perfect replacement. Prapanjan possesses a style similar to Sharfudheen and is equally efficient. Yet at 20, he lacks experience. Although Jeeva is fit, the tenacious Bhupender Singh serves as his foil. Then there is the presence of hard-tackling Iran captain Fazel Atrachali, who will further bolster the defence.
Leadership was never the problem with the Pirates last season as both the India and Pakistan skippers, Rakesh Kumar and Waseem Sajjad respectively, featured in the lineup. The only missing element was a prominent third raider, which was evident when Rakesh got injured. The recruitment of 20-year-old pair Deepak Narwal and Santosh Singh will work to reduce the void. Meanwhile, experienced defender Pradeep Kumar, 30, further strengthens Patna’s defensive ranks.
They had a mediocre team last season so it wasn’t surprising to see them finish at the bottom of the table. Effectively a one-man team, skipper Wazir Singh begged for support that never came. Naturally, they have a completely new-look squad this season, with 14 new faces in the squad of 25. Strong 24-year-old raider Yogesh Hooda will assist Wazir on the attacking front. In defence, hard-tackling Vijendra Singh will back up the experienced Nitin More. The patient yet efficient Manoj Dhull too will add to the collective strength of the defenders.
Jaipur Pink Panthers
It’s tough to spot a weakness in the defending champions’ squad. A testimony to that claim was the seven-match winning streak they enjoyed after an opening game loss to U Mumba. However, a certain loophole had developed in the right-cover position of their defensive strategy. Filling that gap would be the responsibility of newcomer Kuldeep Singh. The Sonepat-resident is known as much for his raiding abilities as for his defensive awareness. Another important signing is 2010 Asian Games gold medallist Sonu Narwal. The 29-year-old is tall and will be proficient when it comes to gathering bonus points.
Despite the quick and powerful Nitin Madane bringing in bonus points and successful raids, along with surprise package Jang Kun Lee from South Korea, the squad lacked a strong leader on court. Dinesh Kumar thus becomes the most prominent new face in the team. At 34, he has experience that includes gold medal winning outings in the 2002 and 2006 Asian Games. The 2010 Arjuna Awardee, fondly called ‘Dada’ by peers, has already been named captain by the Kolkata-franchise. Pune’s Vikas Kale is another signing the Warriors will impress upon. The patient and sure-footed athlete will help stabilise an otherwise inconsistent defence.