Too often in the past seasons of Pro Kabaddi League the team with the best player has triumphed over the best team.
Patna Pirates won the title in fifth season despite conceding the most points thanks to Pardeep Narwal’s record-breaking exploits as he registered the most raid points in a single season (369). A year later, Gujarat Fortunegiants’ near-perfect season ended with a loss when Pawan Sehrawat’s 22-point haul in the final gave Bengaluru Bulls their first Pro Kabaddi title.
The trend seemed to have continued this season as well but for Wednesday. There was no shortage of raiding geniuses in the four teams that reached the semi-finals. But the difference between the winners and losers of the two semi-finals was the contribution of the rest of the team.
Sehrawat scored 18 raid points for Bengaluru Bulls against Dabang Delhi but ended up on the wrong side of the result as Delhi pulled off a win by six points. Similarly, Abhishek Singh of U Mumba scored 11 points in the second semi-final against Bengal Warriors but couldn’t take his team the final.
Sehrawat and Abhishek Singh stayed true to the pre-match hype and delivered the goods for their teams. But they came up against teams who had contributors from every position of the mat. And that proved to be crucial.
Bulls used 11 players but five of them failed to open their account. In contrast, for Dabang Delhi, only two substitutes didn’t return with points against their names.
A crestfallen Sehrawat blasted his team’s defence for showing a lack of appetite and application in the defeat to Delhi in a match that slipped out of the Bulls’ grasps in the final minute.
“The team was not fighting at all,” the Bengaluru Bulls’ raider said. “You can’t win matches just by super tackles.
“We needed to do better and score more points when we had the numbers on the court. I don’t remember us scoring a single tackle with six and seven members on the mat. There is no way you can win if you defend like that,” a visibly frustrated Sherawat added.
The Bulls’ defence made just five successful tackles, thus falling to two all-outs in the first-half. “You can have a bad day, but it didn’t feel that we were playing semi-final games. Our approach was like a league game,” Sherawat said.
“Our captain Rohit Kumar was playing through immense pain. If that didn’t motivate the players, then I don’t know what could have.”
For Delhi, Naveen was well supported by Chandran Ranjit who scored six raid points and also helped with three vital tackle points. The corners, Joginder Narwal and Ravinder Pahal, scored six between them, while cover Anil Kumar rose to the occasion with four points. The other two starters, all-rounder Vijay and cover defender Vishal Mane, scored four points among them.
Sehrawat had no such support in his camp.
In the second semi-final, it was a similar story. Bengal Warriors entered the game without their captain Maninder Singh who has been their lead raider throughout the season.
But his absence wasn’t felt as Bengal Warriors pulled away after a slow start to the game.
The Warriors’ raiding trio of Sukesh Hegde, K Prapanjan and Mohammad Nabibakhsh scored 17 points in total to make up for the loss of their star man.
The defence, which has been slightly inconsistent at times in the campaign, got their act together scoring nine tackle points.
“We are a team that is not dependent on a single player,” coach BC Ramesh said after the game. “Our raiders are all of different types and that helped. Sukesh is a speed raider, Prapanjan is a strength raider and Nabibakhsh is a technical raider.
“In defence, we have players like Jeeva Kumar who can play in both cover positions. So, we have a solution for every position if a player is not doing his best on a particular day.”
In contrast, U Mumba’s raiding department that grew into the season couldn’t have a similar impression as a unit. Even though they scored more raid points in the match, 11 out of the 23 raid points came through Abhishek Singh. The other five were scored by youngster Ajinkya Kapre who put in a four-point raid. However, other raiders, Arjun Deshwal, who suffered a tackle in the buzzer raid, and Rohit Baliyan couldn’t provide enough support to Singh.
“Our problem was that we didn’t have a left-sided raider that did well,” U Mumba assistant coach Upendra Kumar said. “Our main raiders were both right-sided and that helped the Warriors settle into a defensive rhythm. If we had a good left-sided raider, we would have had a different result.”
Iranian Fazel Atrachali who had scored 50% of U Mumba’s tackle points in the five matches preceding the semi-final, had a game to forget scoring just one tackle point. Sandeep Narwal had a fine game scoring five tackle points but he didn’t get the support he needed to keep a versatile Bengal Warriors attack quiet.
Surender Singh scored four tackle points, but also let in five unsuccessful tackles. Young Chang Ko and substitute Harendra Kumar returned without a tackle.
In the end, Dabang Delhi and Bengal Warriors prevailed over their opponents thanks to a collective effort. Their main scorers didn’t feel the burden of carrying their team’s hopes and that was the key.
“I didn’t feel any pressure in the game as I had the confidence that my team would revive me instantly even if I got out. I felt, that freedom helped me score more points,” Delhi’s top-scorer Naveen Kumar said, underlining how team work triumphed individuality on the semi-final stage.
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