The cameras panned, briefly, to the disheartened faces of the Puneri Paltans. On the other end of the court, Pardeep Narwal and his UP Yoddha teammates basked in the glory of a solid 42-31 win that sees them enter the Pro Kabaddi League Season 8 semi-final. A position in the final four for the Yoddhas is not entirely surprising – they do, after all, bolster PKL’s finest ever raider, Narwal, whom they purchased for a record Rs 1.65 crore tag at the auction last year.

The Paltans however have been a surprise package. They punched above their weight to get to the playoffs despite a squad with no solid in-form players. The once-formidable Rahul Chaudhari – dubbed ‘the showman’ – had been relegated to the bench. The captain, Nitin Tomar, for all his skills as a raider, had become more of a utility attacker.

Inspiration had to come from elsewhere, and the Paltan found it in the form of a duo of debutants. Mohit Goyat and Aslam Inamdar were, arguably, the most exciting youngsters to watch this season. And through the impressive raiding partnership they forged from the start of the season, they helped their franchise make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

In a year that will see India attempt to win back the Asian Games crown they lost to Iran four years ago, the young pair would have sent a timely reminder to the more established players that their places should not be taken for granted.

Also read: The rise of Aslam Inamdar, from odd jobs to leading man

But while Inamdar was the Paltan’s highest scorer in terms of raid points at the end of the 22-match league phase, Goyat has chipped in with timely tackles and is the team’s highest overall scorer – he’s scored 183 points from 20 matches, ahead of Inamdar’s tally of 179.

“This is my first season in the PKL, playing at such a high level, and I’ve done well. Everyone is very happy,” Goyat said to

The 19-year-old did not exactly take the season by storm, sitting out in the first few games.

“I was a little scared at the start since I had never played at such a level before,” he said. “I didn’t get to play the first few matches, but the coach told me not to be afraid. He said to just play the way I did in training. I kept that in mind and when I got on the mat, I started to do well.”

Blessed with quick feet, Goyat is an escape artist who had caught the eye of Pune’s coach Anup Kumar – a two-time Asian Games gold medallist considered to be one of the greatest players in the game.

“I had seen some videos of him playing in local matches,” Anup said to this website. “Later on, I saw him play up close at a tournament organised at my academy in Gurugram. His body language is very good and he plays with a lot of confidence. I knew the team would benefit if we had him.”

And the Paltan has benefitted a great deal from the presence of the teenager. He’s played a fearless brand of kabaddi, chipping in with tackles when required, bucking the trend of a main raider staying away from defensive responsibilities. It’s an all-in approach that is a complete contrast to his attitude in his early days in the sport.

“I was maybe 11 or 12 when I first started playing,” said the raider who hails from the Bhaini Kungar village in the Bhawani district of Haryana.

He added: “I was in a government school which had a good kabaddi program. I started playing there, but it was a bit off-on for me. Some days I’d go, some days I just didn’t feel like it. Doston ke saath maza karta tha, par parivaar waalo ne phir bola kabaddi ja ke khelo. (I would chill with friends but then my family asked me to give it a proper go.”

The continuous encouragement from family forced him onto the playing area. Then he got hooked.

In a few years, one of the senior players he’d spent many hours playing with made his way into the PKL and took the marquee league by storm. That senior was a certain Naveen Kumar – Dabang Delhi’s star performer who had single-handedly taken his team to the final last season. Naveen’s heroics helped the Delhi team to the semi-final this season as well, where they will play the Bengaluru Bulls on Wednesday.

“Naveen se milte rehte the gaon main, practice main ya jab bhi season nahi chal raha tha (Would keep meeting Naveen in the village, whenever it was off-season oor during practice sessions),” Goyat recalled.

Being in close proximity to a star performer, who is still only 21, gave Goyat a shot in the arm as well. And that’s where the confidence came – the one Anup alluded to.

Of course, Goyat would not be alone in his conquest of helping the Paltan reach heights not many would have thought they would this season. He had Inamdar there in support, and Anup – though still a rookie coach, is a master tactician who commands the respect of his players.

Goyat-Inamdar partnership

What made the duo an effective unit was that theirs was a left-right combination. Inamdar would attack from the left and Goyat from the right, never giving defenders time to settle.

“That’s a big advantage, especially when both are doing so well,” Anup explained. “If we know the opposition has a weak right side in defence, Aslam will attack from the left, and if their left side is weak, the Mohit would step in.”

Mohit Goyat (L) and Aslam Inamdar scored 376 of the 814 points scored by the Paltan this season.

And when both are on the mat, they exude a confidence that rubs off on the Pune defenders.

“Team ka mahaul bahut accha hota hai (The atmosphere in the team is very good),” Anup added. “A defender always gets motivated by the raiders. If a raider is scoring on every third raid, then defenders feel confident in going for tackles. They know that if they get out, the raider will revive them.”

The Paltan scored a total of 814 points this season. Inamdar and Goyat together scored almost half of that.

Pune did defy the odds to get this far in the season. Their campaign may be over, but amidst the upsets they came up with, the team also unearthed two future stars.