We’re nearing the business end of Pro Kabaddi League Season 3 and it’s been some ride already, with more balanced sides giving us some incredible nail biters that have hinged on the smallest of moments to turn the game. As we get closer to the playoffs however and as the race for the top for heats up, it’s the perfect time to dive into the age-old sports adage of “Offense wins you games but it’s the defense that wins Championships!”
It’s a trend that continues across all sports and is now clearly evident in our Indian sport of kabaddi as well. Going back to the first edition and it was U Mumba who’s defence initially stood out before the Jaipur Pink Panthers onslaught began and as one cohesive unit, went on an eight game winning streak averaging 10.63 tackle points per game to take the title in a heavyweight battle. U Mumba responded in similar fashion in the second edition and if it was even possible, actually upped their game defensively.
The third edition has been about the lean-mean-men-in-green from Patna for most part and while their raiders have assaulted most defensive units, their real heroes have been the supporting act in defense, bringing about quick revivals, therefore allowing their raiders to go all out and attack. Raiders develop paths into the opposition half and the defensive structure is therefore based on these preferences, with coaches spending days studying raiding patterns of the opposition to then try to pounce in a brief moment of weakness.
But what exactly constitutes a good defense and what is the role of each man in that 7-man line up that swings like a pendulum as a raider approaches and plots his attack? When you take a look at all the sides, there’s a familiar trend that seems to develop with each man chosen for a particular role.
The basic formation from left to right consists of a left corner, left in, left cover, centre, right cover, right in, right corner.
Just as each raider possesses a skill set that might include a toe touch, scorpion kick, running hand touch, Dubki/dive or a jump over the chain, the defenders too possess arrows in their quiver that can be quite lethal. Let’s start with the corners and their trademark assets.
The two corner defenders are perhaps the most key elements in a defensive line-up where constant communication is the key, and you’ll often find the closest of friends or men who’ve played with each other a lot donning these roles.
Physically, these men need to be nimble footed as each corner needs to swing around to eat into any available space on court when the raider attacks the opposite corner. Skills you’ll most often find with the corners are the ankle hold/diving ankle hold, when the raider looks to attempt a Bonus Point or a toe touch and then a back hold or thigh hold, which is all about sensing the slightest opportunity when the raider has his back to the corner while assessing his next move.
Timing from the corner defenders is absolutely vital as the foot movements of a raider while attempting a toe touch or bonus can be extremely quick. The corners also have the responsibility of often luring the raider deeper into the court to give enough time for the rest of the defense to swing around with a combination tackle. Ravinder Pahal’s diving ankle holds made him the star of Season 2 but Iranian, Fazal Atrachali is making that left corner his very own in season 3!
Short, strong, stocky and built to stand their ground and stop a raider in their tracks, these are the two cover defenders, known to be the watchdogs in defense. Just as a raider comes in with a plan to eventually find an escape route to the midline, the cover defender’s are the men that look to find a brief moment when the raider in lured deep by the corners, to get in front and produce a colossal frontal block!
Given their low centre of gravity, balance is the key for these men as they stand their ground, move into the raider’s midriff and create a wall of obstruction. Manjeet Chillar, Sandeep Narwal, Jeeva Kumar and Vishal Mane are perhaps the best in the business and also possess the ability to throw in the “Dash” to usher a raider off court when the raider is on the turn and looks to use the yellow Lobbies to retreat.
The Left & Right In are most often key raiders of the side who also play a strong supporting role alongside the corner defenders, especially with chain tackles which are advanced defence skills used to capture tall & often stronger players who otherwise might appear invincible.
The chain’s mechanism includes covering the path of the raider and then maintaining the hold after the initial capture. These men quite often also surprise a raider with an ankle hold although the risk involved is great as they are required more for their raiding prowess and can’t afford to make defensive errors to put them on the bench. Anup Kumar, Rishank Devadiga, Rahul Chaudhary and Kashiling Adake are all fine examples of men in these positions.
Finally, the centre, who is also one of the primary raiders of the side and perhaps the one’s that are most protected from an attack from the raider. While many centres choose to sit back and not get involved in a tackle, key figures like Rakesh Kumar come to the aid of the cover defenders from behind the raider as soon as a block has been initiated.
It’s quite often a combined effort that is required to keep a raider down and these combination tackles where the raiders get involved often prove vital in the outcome of a match.
The reliance on the defense has increased and quite often controls the pace of the entire game as well. As the season nears the crucial Semi Finals, we will, in my opinion, witness the four sides who have the strongest backbone that make the cut and emerge Champions…The raiders might be the showstoppers and the crowd pullers but it’s the men that do the dirty work without the glory that are the biggest assets to each side!