After the first season of Pro Kabaddi League in 2014, Puneri Paltan parted company with coach Ramphal Kaushik. The team’s torrid time was largely blamed on injuries and a weak bench strength. Under the new coach Ashok Shinde, Paltan didn’t make any ambitious changes to the squad and were once again doomed to the eighth place in the second season of the tournament.
And once again, similar reasons were sighted for the failure. It was necessary to pick up the spirit of the dressing room after consecutive failures and with time running out, Shinde took a big decision of releasing 11 players including captain Wazir Singh from the squad and signed top players like Manjeet Chillar, Prashant Chavan and Ajay Thakur.
Shinde says that the second season gave him an idea of what needed to change at the club. “Everything was largely blamed on the lack of fitness in players. But I believe that a major reason for our failure was that we had too many youngsters and only a few experienced players. We lost many games with a small margin because the youngsters didn’t have the experience to last in the game. They used to lose their nerve in the final moments. That’s why, we’ve brought in players like Chillar and Chavan,” he says.
Elaborating on how the imbalance in the team affected its performance in the last season, Shinde says, “Senior players like Wazir Singh were performing well but they were beyond their prime. Their decline was imminent. And when they got injured or played bad, the team just collapsed because everything was built around them. The new players which I’ve brought in are different. They know how to deal with such situations. Chillar was the player of the season. Deepak Hooda has won the Man of the Match award several times last year. Not only that, I’ve got four-five all-rounders like Ravi Jumar and Jasmer Singh who can be played in any position. Many things have changed compared to last year.”
When asked if he had bid for leading Delhi Dabang raider Kashiling Adake, who hails from Sangli, Shinde said that it was impossible to lure all the toppers of last season. “Many teams had their bids rejected for different players, sometimes because the team wanted to hold the player, and on other occasions the players wanted to stay with the team because they were well settled there. For me, it was not just about bringing in Kashi or Rahul Choudhary, but I was more keen on having options,” says Shinde.
Since the training camps have begun, the team has emphasised on improvising difficult situations where three or four players have to deal with a full-strength opposition. But with the big changes, the burden has increased as well. Shinde admits that a semi-final is a must this season, failing which could lead to severe consequences. “This season will be very different. We’ve to rectify our mistakes before it’s too late,” he concludes.