Kabaddi in the last few months has been embroiled in controversy more than been a reason for celebration. India’s dominance in kabaddi at the Asian Games in Indonesia was checked by Iran that resulted in bronze medal for the men and silver for the women. In the group stages, the men were beaten by South Korea to add to the embarrassment for a country that was expected to walk over and stand atop the podium. If that wasn’t enough, came the allegations of selection wrongdoing leading to an absurd match between the team that finished third and those who missed the bus. The top players, however, gave it a miss. Two days before the start of the sixth season of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), a public interest litigation was junked by the Delhi High Court for supposed unfair selection process by the same set of players.
PKL would look to end this trying period for the sport – a sport that India has called its own for a long time but the veracity of it has been questioned due to recent ‘failures’. Many have argued cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) has helped youngsters learn their trade from the senior pros and the same could be said for PKL. The league has possibly bridged the gap between India and the rest leading to scenes as witnessed in Indonesia. And now the league could well help India move past the disappointment of the Asian Games. The league will span three months in its sixth season – October 7 to January 5.
The five seasons have seen three teams emerge as winners: Jaipur Pink Panthers (Season 1), U Mumba (Season 2) and Patna Pirates (Seasons 3, 4, and 5). A quick look at what makes the 12 teams tick for the PKL 2018:
Captain: Surjeet Singh
Coach: Jagadish Kumble
Best PKL Finish: Fourth (PKL 3)
Bengal Warriors have played every season of the league but have been the underachievers. They have twice qualified for the playoffs and finished bottom of the table in the other three. In the two seasons that they did make the playoffs, Warriors didn’t win a single playoff match. In terms of personnel, Bengal Warriors have retained captain Surjeet Singh and star raider Maninder Singh while keeping South Korea’s captain Jang Kun Lee and Ran Singh using the Final Bid Match card during the auction. Coach Jagdish Kumble pinpoints all-rounder Ravindra Kumavat and raider Amit Kumar from Services as men to watch out for from his side.
Coach: Randhir Singh
Best PKL Finish: Finalists (PKL 2)
Bengaluru Bulls haven’t been able to hit the high notes of the first two seasons of the Pro Kabaddi League where they finished fourth and runners up respectively. Since then, they haven’t been able to make it to the playoffs. The team has bolstered the squad in attack with the likes of Rohit Kumar and Kashiling Adake together. Rohit finished the second highest raid scorer last season and Adake as the highest raid points for U Mumba last season. However, Bengaluru have left the defence weak with the covers looking like their biggest weakness. Aside from Mahender Singh, the defence has a weak look which would be a challenge for the side.
Captain Rohit Kumar before the season: “According to me, the team that puts its best foot forward will win, it is a competition, and everyone will come prepared. In my opinion Tamil Thalaivas is the most prepared team for this season, under the able guidance from Ajay Thakur. In terms of players, Surrender Nada is the one defender who is the toughest to beat for a raider, along with being the best, he also covers up when his team falters.”
Captain: Joginder Narwal
Coach: Krishan Kumar Hooda
Best PKL Finish: 6th (PKL 1)
Of the eight teams that have been a part of the PKL since the first season, Dabang Delhi have been the only one to have never made the play-offs. A sixth place finish in the opening season has been their best outcome. Joginder Narwal has been named as captain, but he is coming back after missing most of PKL 5 due to injury. Further onus will be on senior members Meyraj Sheikh and Shabeer Bapu. But a largely inexperienced and team lacking star names, Dabang Delhi would put their hopes on in-form defender Vishal Mane who impressed last season.
Captain: Sunil Kumar
Coach: Manpreet Singh
Best PKL Finish: Runners up (PKL 5)
Playing their first season, Gujarat Fortunegiants made it to the final of the fifth season of the Pro Kabaddi League but were beaten by Patna Pirates. The team will be without the names who took them to the final in maiden season – Iranian corner defenders Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mighani. Further, they were unable to find a suitable replacement either. Atrachali was snapped up by U Mumba for ₹1 crore, while the Telugu Titans acquired the services of Mighani for ₹76 lakh. Gujarat retained raider Sachin Tanwar while South Korea’s Dong Geon Lee and Iranian Hadi Oshtorak have joined the squad for PKL-6. Their costliest signing was K. Prapanjan for ₹38 lakh, while Ajay Kumar, at ₹25 lakh, is another choice that could bolster their attack. Prapanjan had finished as the second best raider for Tamil Thalaivas.
Captain: Surender Nada
Coach: Rambir Khokhar
Best PKL Finish: 6th (PKL 5)
Haryana Steelers come into the season having splashed the cash for Monu Goyat, one of the stars of Patna Pirates title winning team last season, and also the most expensive player at the PKL 6 auction. He was picked up by the Steelers for Rs 1.51 crores and will have plenty to do to justify the price tag as the lead raider. For Haryana, a major concern will be the quality of their covers. Neeraj Kumar and Sachin Shingade who are probably the first choices for both positions had a below average last season. Additionally, captain Surender Nada will be playing his first PKL season without the combination with Mohit Chhillar.
Jaipur Pink Panthers
Captain: Anup Kumar
Coach: Srinivas Reddy
Best PKL Finish: Winners (PKL 1)
Former India captain Anup Kumar brings a wealth of experience to the setup and will play for a new team for the first time having donned U Mumba’s jersey for the first five seasons. Alongside Anup is all-rounder Deepak Hooda who had a fantastic season with Puneri Paltan to earn himself a Rs 1.15 crore contract during the auction. He scored 172 raid points in the season with 7 Super 10s and played more as a raider than as a defender. He is likely to do the same job for Jaipur in the absence of any other big-name raider. Another big name signing by the Pink Panthers is veteran right corner Mohit Chhillar who will be playing without Surender Nada for the first time in his PKL career. Cover positions look to be a reason for concern for Jaipur with Bajirao Hodage scoring just 11 tackle points and Young Chang Ko just two points.
Captain: Pardeep Narwal
Coach: Ram Mehar Singh
Best PKL Finish: Winners (PKL 3, PKL 4, PKL 5)
Patna Pirates will be looking to win the title for a fourth consecutive season when PKL 6 gets underway. Pirates also hold the accolade of reaching the playoffs in each of the five seasons – only team to do so. Their lucky charm appears to be their captain Pardeep Narwal under whom Pirates have won three straight titles. Last year’s MVP, Narwal recorded 369 raid points to edge the second best Rohit Kumar by a staggering 150 points. He is now 41 raid points behind Rahul Chaudhari in the PKL leaderboards despite playing 15 matches less. Further, he needs four more Super 10s to overtake Rahul in PKL. He will be without a strong second-hand this season and the responsibility will rest on Deepak Narwal who had the second best Do-or-Die
success rate in PKL 5. Jaideep is the only proven defender still with Patna which highlights their vulnerability at the back.
Captain: Girish Ernak
Coach: Ashan Kumar
Best PKL Finish: 3rd (PKL 3, PKL 4)
After two seasons finishing at the bottom of the table, Puneri Paltan clinched playoff berths in two consecutive seasons. But they were denied a place in the final to finish third. Away from teams who focus on attacking play and collecting raid points, Paltan have been more about their defense. They finished with highest tackle point average (11.3) and second lowest average points conceded (28.5) in the league. Last season’s captain Captain Deepak Hooda led from the front with 172 raid points. The onus to lead the attack now rests on former player Nitin Tomar who accumulated an average 8.4 raid points last season. Rajesh Mondal, with 119 do-or-die raid points, has been retained by the team.
Captain: Ajay Thakur
Coach: Edachery Bhaskaran
Best PKL Finish: Group stage (PKL 5)
Among the four new teams last season, Tamil Thalaivas finished bottom of Zone B and were the only debutants not to qualify for the playoffs. Skipper Ajay Thakur led from the front in PKL 5 with over 200 raid points – one of the three players to do so – and will lead the attack once again. They were undone by the inexperienced side to exit early. This season, they’ve added the missing components in Manjeet Chhillar (Best all-rounder of PKL), Jasvir Singh (PKL winner) and Sukesh Hegde (PKL 5 Finalist and DoD Specialist). The Thakur and Chillar combination could prove to be the difference maker for the team. Defence has a good look with Chhillar, Amit Hooda, Darshan J., Sunil in the mix.
Captain: Vishal Bhardwaj
Best PKL Finish: 3rd (PKL 2)
Telugu Titans’ hopes of doing well in PKL 6 lie firmly on how Rahul Chaudhari performs. He was retained by using the Final Bid Match Card for Rs 1.29 crore and the sum is a justified for a raider of his qualities. Chaudhari has the highest raid points overall in PKL history — 666 points — and has 543 successful raids over five seasons of the glitzy league. His ability to raid from both sides of the mat makes him more menacing. With Abozar Mohajermighani as defender, the Titans look solid in defence too. The Iranian was key for the Fortunegiants last season and his experience will go a long way in shaping his new team’s defence.
Captain: Fazel Atrachali
Coach: Gholamreza Mazandarani
Best PKL Finish: Winners (PKL 2)
U Mumba will be without captain Anup Kumar for the first time in the PKL. He led the team to playoffs for three straight seasons – including the title in the second. His replacement as the leader of the unit is Iranian Fazel Atrachali who plies in the left corner. He had captained Gujarat Fortunegiants briefly last season and won eight of nine matches. Gholamreza Mazandarani has become the first ever foreign coach in PKL history to highlight the influence of non-Indians on the sport. They have a strong corner combination (Fazel-Cheralathan) but a weak cover combination in their defense. Surender Singh and Rohit Rana had a tackle failure rate of over 60% in PKL 5. In fact, Rohit’s tackle failure rate of 72% was the worst in the league. The team don’t boast of a strong attacking option with none of their raiders scoring more than 100 raid points last season.
Captain: Rishank Devadiga
Coach: Jasveer Singh
Best PKL Finish: 5th (PKL 5)
UP Yodha will be led by star raider Rishank Devadiga for the sixth edition of the PKL. Playing at the Shaheed Vijay Singh Pathik Sports Complex in Greater Noida, Yodha’s finished third in the zone last season and fifth overall. The team combination sees seven raiders and eight defenders.