After an enthralling league stage, the seventh edition of Pro Kabaddi League has entered its final lap. Out of the twelve teams, defending champions Bengaluru Bulls, UP Yoddha, U Mumba, Haryana Steelers, Bengal Warriors, and Dabang Delhi have made it to the playoffs of this edition.
After emerging first and second in the league stage, Delhi and Bengal automatically secured their place in the semi-finals, while Bengaluru, along with UP, Mumbai, and Haryana are still in the fray of making it to the final four.
The action will kick off with the defending champions Bengaluru taking on UP in Eliminator 1, which will be followed by the clash between Mumbai and Haryana on Monday. The winners of these matches will then take on Delhi and Bengal respectively in the semi-finals.
Led by Joginder Narwal, the Delhi side emerged as the leaders of the league stage with 15 wins in 22 matches. Despite having experienced candidates like Narwal and Ravinder Pahal in the camp, 19-year-old Naveen Kumar has emerged as an instrumental figure behind Delhi’s success. The young raider has so far secured the maximum Super 10s in the ongoing season and out of Delhi’s 482 raid points, he has single-handedly fetched 268.
While Delhi’s attack seems to be in good hands, the defence remains a spot of bother for the table toppers. Out of 535 tackle opportunities, Delhi could only hold their opposition 196 times. Ravinder, who has so far been Delhi’s standout performer in defence, will once again take charge when the team play their first semi-final on Wednesday.
“This is the first time Dabang Delhi has qualified for the semi-finals, we are not under pressure, but it is the team’s and my wish to emerge as the champions this season,” Narwal said ahead of the eliminators at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad.
Despite making to the playoffs in the previous two editions, Bengal are still in the hunt for their maiden PKL title. The Kolkata-based franchise became the second team to book a spot in the playoffs, with 14 wins in 22 matches. Leading the pack from the front, Maninder Singh has been the backbone behind Bengal’s splendid season.
Apart from the skipper, Iran’s Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh has been another key asset for the side, who has managed to grab 107 points, out of which 78 have come during raids.
“The journey of Pro Kabaddi League Season 7 has been incredible, and the team has given their best to make it to the Top 2. We are now preparing for the semi-finals, and are aware that the game will be tough. We began the season on a positive note, and we intend to finish it as champions,” he said.
UP will kick-off the playoff action against defending champions Bengaluru in the first Eliminator on Monday. The team had a mixed campaign with 13 wins, seven defeats and two draws. However, after overpowering their opponent twice in the league stage, UP will enter the contest filled with confidence.
UP skipper Nitesh Kumar also emphasized on the fact that the double win over Bengaluru will definitely add confidence to the side when they take the mat on Monday. “During the league stage, we won both games against Bengaluru Bulls which helps our confidence but this one is going to be the toughest and a win will take us into the semi-Finals,” he said.
While UP will rely heavily on their firm defence line, Shrikant Jadhav can prove to be the gamechanger for his side. The raider is UP’s leading scorer, while Sumit, who is currently the second-best defender in the season with 70 tackle points, will hold the charge in defence.
After becoming the MVP in the previous edition, Bengaluru skipper Pawan Sehrawat once again stood up to the task as he currently leads the charts for bagging the most points in the ongoing season. With the highest number of successful raids in the season, the 23-year-old has so far amassed 322 points, out of which 308 have come in raids.
Sehrawat feels that the league stage has given his side ample time to study their opponents and are hopeful of retaining the title.
“The league stages were tough but it allowed us to study our opponents as we played them more than once. However, now that we are in a knockout situation, we have to play to our strengths. We have a strategy in place against UP Yoddha’s strong defensive squad and we will do our best to ensure we retain the title,” Sehrawat said.
Led by Iran’s Fazel Atrachali, U Mumba have been rock-solid in defence. The skipper, who plays on the left, has the maximum number of Super Tackles in this edition and his side will hope for a similar show when they take on Haryana in the second Eliminator on Monday. Both sides have secured one win each during the league stage and fans can expect a thrilling contest when they meet for the third time in the season.
“During the league stage, if we lose one match, we know we have a chance to go back and work on our mistakes to improve. Tomorrow’s match is a do-or-die situation, if we lose, our season is over and we go back home. Haryana is a strong team and they too will come with a plan to limit us but as a team, we are confident and are taking one step at a time. We will give our 100% and aim to win the match,” the Iran international said on Sunday.
All eyes will be on Vikas Kandola when Haryana take on Mumbai in the second Eliminator. The raider has been clinical throughout the campaign, securing 178 raid points out of the 460 Haryana have fetched so far. Despite winning 13 out of the 22 matches, skipper Dharmaraj Cheralathan feels that the team had a good run in the league stage and have worked on their basics.
Sharing his thoughts on the clash against Mumbai, the skipper said, “We are focused on our match against U Mumba and have won a match and lost the other one against them. So, for the Eliminator we will be looking to execute a strategy based on our learnings from the previous games of this season. As a team, our ultimate aim is to emerge as champions of Season 7.”