The seventh season of Pro Kabaddi will enter its final lap beginning with the semi-finals on Wednesday when Dabang Delhi face defending champions Bengaluru Bulls and U Mumba take on the Bengal Warriors at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad.
The eliminators saw the raiders take the mantle in their own hands as Bulls’ Pawan Sehrawat and U Mumba’s Abhishek Singh and Arjun Deshwal scored 51 points among themselves in the two matches on Monday.
The defences of all four teams in action on Monday were left wanting in the wake of the raiding brilliance that defined the first part of the playoffs.
The semi-finals are expected to pan out on similar lines with teams boasting great quality in their raiding departments.
Over the last few seasons, raiders have often ruled the roost in knockout matches with the team having the best raider in their ranks going on the lift the trophy. It was Pardeep Narwal in 2017 for the Patna Pirates and Pawan last season for the Bengaluru Bulls who rose to the occasion to deliver superlative performances.
Pawan has got off to the perfect start for a repeat show in the Bulls’ extra-time win in the eliminator against UP Yoddha where he racked up 20 points in the match.
Dabang Delhi’s Naveen Kumar who set a new record for most Super 10s in a single season and Bengal Warriors’ Maninder Singh would be further adding to the raiding talent on display in Wednesday’s clashes, with U Mumba’s emerging talents Abhishek Singh and Arjun Deshwal not to be discounted either.
Here’s a closer look at each of the semi-finals.
Dabang Delhi vs Bengaluru Bulls
Talking of raiders, it doesn’t get more high-profile than a Pawan vs Naveen battle. They are arguably the two best active raiders in the league and have been at the heart of their teams’ semi-final run. While Naveen has been supported well by his teammates, Pawan has almost single-handedly pulled the Bulls this far.
The Bengaluru Bulls’ star man has contributed to 64.7% of his team’s raid points this season while Naveen has accounted for 55.6% of Delhi’s raid points.
However, the quality that could come into play for the two raiders in the semi-final is their ability to deliver in pressure situations. Naveen has the best strike rate in the competition when it comes to do-or-die and super tackle situations, a statistic that could be a difference in a high-pressure knockout match like a semi-final.
Pawan, too, can boast of this ability but the lack of raiding support for last season’s MVP may put too much of a burden on his shoulders against an experienced defence of Dabang Delhi.
Naveen, on the other hand, has enjoyed good support from Chandran Ranjit and Vijay. This three-pronged attack has allowed Delhi to dominate teams. Even though their defence has scored the lowest number of points in the division, their raiders have allowed them to play without pressure. Dabang Delhi have conceded the least number of all-outs this season and that ability to keep up their numbers on the mat is likely to put a lot of pressure on Pawan.
However, Bengaluru Bulls have shown the ability to come back from seemingly hopeless situations as seen in the eliminator. Their tenacity even when they have fewer players on the mat has been key. The Bulls’ defence is the best performing unit when reduced to three or fewer men, having scored crucial super tackle points all season.
Their might in super tackles situations though would be tested against Naveen Kumar whose lightning quick movements make it very hard for defences to survive for long with smaller numbers on court.
Overall, Delhi hold a slight edge thanks to their team balance and experience. For Bengaluru Bulls, a lot rests on Pawan Sehrawat and against a ruthless unit like Dabang Delhi who topped the league stages, it may prove to be their Achilles Heel.
U Mumba vs Bengal Warriors
U Mumba have peaked at just the perfect time in the season, winning five out of their last seven matches, but their resurgence will be put to the sternest test when they take on Bengal Warriors in the second semi-final on Wednesday.
The Warriors who finished second in the league stage are one of the most balanced squads in the competition and in Maninder Singh they also have a player capable of winning matches on his own.
While U Mumba’s recent form would make any team nervous, the Warriors showcased the depth in their squad facing no problems despite the absence of injured captain Maninder. Their reserve raiders Rakesh Narwal and Sourabh Tanaji Patil scored Super 10s despite having barely featured in the earlier games.
Apart from Maninder, the Warriors have K Prapanjan, Iran’s Mohammed Nabibakhsh and Sukesh Hegde to bolster their attack. All the raiders have been in among the points, thus giving coach BC Ramesh a good headache before the semi-finals against U Mumba.
The Bengal Warriors also have a strong corner combination in Rinku Narwal and Baldev Singh to compliment their raiding might. Their cover defenders are the only area of concern for the Warriors ahead of the semis.
For U Mumba, skipper Fazel Atrachali has been the difference in the left corner position, but more importantly, as skipper, he has managed to get the best out of the combination of young raiders and defenders that make up his team.
The Iranian has been the brain of the side and has put his knowledge and understanding of the game to the best possible use.
Keeping the Bengal Warriors’ combined raiding might down is going to be a tough ask even for the U Mumba defence simply due to the number of options available to coach BC Ramesh in the raiding department.
So U Mumba would once again rely on Abhishek Singh and Arjun Deshwal to do the trick. The two young raiders complement each other well. Abhishek is excellent with more defenders on the court, while Arjun comes into his own with the opponent being reduced in numbers.
Their lack of experience means consistency has been a problem, but U Mumba tend to do very well when Abhishek and Arjun work in tandem. In the six matches that the two have scored more than five points each, U Mumba have won four, tied one and lost one.
While the battle between U Mumba’s defence and Bengal Warriors’ raiders may grab the eyeballs, it is the duel between U Mumba’s attack and Bengal’s defence that could prove to be decisive in this encounter.