It’s a good time to be a kabaddi fan. The interest levels have steadily been on the rise since the franchise-based Pro Kabaddi League burst onto the scene in 2014. Packed houses, exhilarating play that ebbs and flows from one end to the other for 40 minutes, and the rapid change in momentum across teams have ensured that the tournament garnered enough eyeballs.
The national team too, didn’t disappoint, wrapping up yet another World Cup win. The frenzy surrounding the league made way for a bigger league, with four new teams joining the setup in UP Yodhas, Tamil Thalaivas, Gujarat Fortunegiants and Haryana Steelers. A bigger tournament also meant larger squads (a maximum of 25 members) and the highest stakes in the game’s history. Anup Kumar, Manjeet Chillar, Ajay Thakur have become household names, and so have foreign stars Korean Jan Kun Lee and Iran’s Mehraj Sheikh.
Four additional teams also meant a much bigger league, outlasting even the Indian Premier League. A whopping 138 matches will be played during this period. The 12 teams will be divided into two zones of six teams each. Each team will be playing 15 intra-zone and seven inter-zone matches and the top three progress to the playoffs.
The final leg of the tournament mirrors the IPL with qualifiers and eliminators. The group-stage winner will also get a second crack at landing a spot in the final. To prepare for the marathon season, bigger squads are also in place. It is mandatory for the teams to have two foreigners and a maximum of four in their ranks. Mumbai and Chennai will play hosts to the playoffs.
There are seven members in each team. The raider attempts to get a touch on the opponent in his territory and get back to his half. The struggle ends if the defender/s manage to lock their opponent with a tackle. If the raider manages to touch the mid-line, it is counted a successful raid. A solitary point is earned by the team for every successful raid. The time given to the raider is 30 seconds and if there is no touch, it is counted as an empty raid.
If a team plays out two empty raids, it calls for a do-or-die raid. A failure here would see the raider sit out till the team sees out a revival through a successful raid or a tackle. When a raid is halted with three defenders or less is called a Super Raid. When a raider manages to get a touch on more than one defender, it is termed as a Super Tackle. A team earns as many points as the number of players the raider manages to touch in the opposition half.
If a team runs out of players because of unsuccessful tackles and raids, it’s an all-out. The opposition earns two extra points if this happens. A player can also be sent out by the umpire if his “kabaddi kabaddi” chant is not loud enough.
The Chennai franchise are touted to do well as they managed to snap up Ajay Thakur, who was instrumental during India’s World Cup win. Jaipur Pink Panthers won the inaugural tournament. U Mumba won the 2015 edition. Patna Pirates won both the tournaments that were held last year.
Bengal Warriors have the most expensive foreign player in their ranks in Jan Kun Lee. However, the side will struggle to fill the void left by prolific defender Nilesh Shinde, who moved to Dabang Delhi. Their time with Bengaluru Bulls might not have taken the tournament by storm but Surinder Nada and Mohit Chillar chance their luck with Haryana Steelers. Anup Kumar’s consistent displays have become one of the standout features in the tournament and is easily one of the most recognised players.
Seasoned campaigner Manjeer Chillar, who plays for Pink Panthers is one of the players to watch out for. Yodhas have the formidable Nitin Tomar, Rishank Devadiga. The raiding duties of the Telugu Titans are spearheaded by Rahul Chaudhari, who is one of the best in the division. However, all eyes are on Pradeep Narwal and his marauding Patna Pirates side, who are eying a hat-trick of titles.