Puneri Paltan and Jaipur Pink Panthers set up a showdown for the Pro Kabaddi season 9 title after beating Tamil Thalaivas and Bengaluru Bulls in their respective semifinal matches at the Dome, NSCI SVP Stadium, Mumbai on Thursday.
Having trailed the Thalaivas for most of the match, Puneri Paltan mounted a stunning comeback late in the second half to notch 39-37 victory in the second semifinal, the Pink Panthers recorded a comfortable 49-29 win over the Bulls.
Pankaj Mohite (16 points) and Mohammad Nabibakhsh (6 points) were the stars on an incredibly tense evening as the Puneri Paltan reached the PKL final for the first time in their history.
In the early moments of the match, the signs pointed towards a close game between the two sides. But that was till the Thalaivas defence woke up, taking the game by the neck. Very soon, Narender and Ajinkya Pawar’s raids were being complemented by some brilliant defending, as the Paltan faltered.
It took multiple Super Tackles for the Paltan to delay what would have been an early all out, and when the first All Out did arrive, it saw the Thalaivas surge into a 15-11 lead. Now in sync and in control, the Thalaivas started controlling the game, and despite falling in numbers to some brilliant raids by Pankaj Mohite, they got some Super Tackles of their own to ensure they didn’t surrender an all out. The teams went into the break with the Thalaivas leading 21-15 but with fewer players on the mat.
Paltan came out in the second half determined to inflict an early all out to regain momentum. Missing their two lead raiders in the game, and up against a strong, resilient Thalaivas unit it proved difficult. It took the guile and brilliance of Mohammad Nabibakhsh to help them get their own first All Out to make it a one point game.
The difference between the two teams never extended two points in the final ten minutes, both teams trading points constantly, a tactical battle of the highest quality underway. Mohite completed his 10 points for the game and with five minutes remaining the teams were locked 30-30.
It was in that final period that Paltan captain Fazel Atrachali sprung to life, both his tackle points of the game, coming at crunch time and both removing Ajinkya Pawar.
With barely three minutes left, the Paltan got their second All Out of the game to take a 36-30 lead. It was a lead they never let go of, holding the Thalaivas off at an arm’s distance to smartly close out the game and qualify for the final.
Pink Panthers tame Bulls
In the first semifinal, Sahul Kumar emerged as the best player for the Panthers with 10 tackle points in the match.
Arjun Deshwal picked up a couple of raid points as the Panthers took the lead at 5-3 in the 5th minute. V Ajith pulled off a magnificent raid soon after and helped the Panthers extend their lead further.
However, the Bulls fought back through their defense unit and reach within touching distance of Jaipur’s score at 8-10 in the 10th minute. But Ajith continued to shine as the Panthers kept forging ahead. Rahul Chaudhari stepped up his game and helped the Jaipur side take a massive lead at 14-9 in the 13th minute.
Moments later, the Panthers inflicted an All Out to take a stronghold of the game at 18-10. Kandola effected a fantastic raid in the 18th minute, but the Jaipur side still held the lead at 21-14. Bharat found it difficult to breach the Panthers’ defense consistently as Jaipur led at 24-15 at the end of the first half.
The Pink Panthers rode on the momentum and inflicted an All Out in the opening minutes of the second half. Ajith caught out Sachin Narwal and Reza Mirbagheri tackled Bharat as the Panthers led comfortably at 33-19 in the 27th minute.
The Jaipur side kept raging on and carried out another All Out in the 29th minute. The Pink Panthers’ defense unit led by Sahul Kumar showcased top form and helped their team dominate proceedings at 43-25 in the 34th minute.
The Bulls tackled Deshwal in the 37th minute, but the Panthers continued to keep their noses in front at 46-27. Thereafter, the Panthers’ raiders treaded carefully and eventually sealed their place in the grand finale.