There was a certain trend that emerged quite early in the second ever auction of the Pro Kabaddi League: defenders were in high demand.
In fact, the first name to come up itself, defender Fazel Atrachali led to rapid bidding that saw the Iranian being sold for a record 38 lakh to the Patna Pirates. Yet that mark was soon eclipsed.
Mohit Chillar, a right-corner defender was purchased by the Bengaluru Bulls, from their total purse of Rs 2 crore, for a massive Rs 53 lakh – making him the highest ever paid kabaddi player in PKL history.
In the list of top 10 most expensive purchases, eight players are defenders or defensive all-rounders.
For the first three seasons of the marquee league nonetheless, raiders – or attackers – presented the glamour quotient for the sport.
A single player walking into the opponent’s half of the court, getting touches on defenders and returning with points was always seen as the hero.
“Raiders have the fancier moves. They’d dive under defenders, jump over them, or just break through and bulldoze their way back to their half. What do defenders do? Hold an ankle, thigh, or grab onto a raider’s waist. That comes across as dull,” explains Bhaskaran Edachery, coach of U Mumba.
Bengaluru Bulls coach Randhir Singh further states that defenders can sometimes not be recognised after a scrum. “One defender will initiate the tackle and the rest will pile on. Eventually, you can’t really tell who made the first move because of the mess,” he says.
However both the Mumbai and Bangalore franchises generated success in the first three seasons based on effective defensive units.
Jeeva Kumar, who was sold in the first season for Rs 9.2 lakh to U Mumba, and bought back by the team for Rs 40 lakh – the third most expensive overall, asserts that a strong defensive unit actually promoted the attackers.
“The raiders knew that the defenders could bail them out. So they were ready to take risks. Sometimes the team won games only because of points won during defence,” he mentions.
Subsequently, the Mumbai team managed to buy back just one of their four key defenders because of their demand by other franchises. In fact, all four made it to the top 10 list, with 22-year-old Chhillar topping the chart.
Bought for Rs 5.75 lakh in the first season by U Mumba, the PKL’s most expensive player has braced himself for the long list of articles his parents and sisters will want him to purchase. “For now, my father said he’d bring sweets on the way home. I’m expecting him to hand over the bill to me,” Chhillar laughs.