Here’s what happened in the week gone by in Pro Kabaddi League 2021-22.
With just over two minutes to go in the first half, the beleaguered Telugu Titans saw a glimmer of hope as they effected an all-out and went into a slender 20-19 lead against table-toppers Patna Pirates. Coming into the Pro Kabaddi match on Monday, the Titans had won just one match. And though triumph over Patna would not have done much to help them get up from the last position in the 12-team league, it would have given them a much-needed shot in the arm.
But Titans couldn’t even carry the lead into half-time. Starting with Mohammedreza Chiyaneh’s ankle hold on Rajnish, the most successful raider for his team on the day, the Pirates shut the door on the Titans emphatically. In another statement win, the Pirates defeated Telugu Titans 38-30.
It was their fifth win in a row, third in the week where they became the only team to have qualified for the playoffs.
Three-time champions Patna have struck red-hot form with the league stage of Pro Kabaddi season 8 nearing the business end. With 75 points from 19 matches, they have a 10-point lead and one-match advantage over second-placed Dabang Delhi. However, the number that underlines their domination this season is the score difference of 118. The next best score difference is 33 by the Bengaluru Bulls, who have slipped to fifth in the League table.
What this means is that the Pirates, the most successful team in Pro Kabaddi history, is also the most complete this season. Their raiding unit, currently spearheaded by Sachin Tanwar and Guman Singh, is working so well that Monu Goyat has been left to warm the bench. Meanwhile, they are the only team who are consistently pro-active in defence and pulling off those advanced tackles impeccably.
Iran’s Chiyaneh has quickly made the left corner position, once occupied by his compatriot Fazel Atrachali, for Patna his own. While he is very good at reading the raiders and the match situation, the big-built 21-year-old can pull off the mistimed tackles with sheer strength.
And he has the figures to back it up. He is second on the list of most tackle points – 61 from 18 matches.
Patna’s organised defence is what has set them apart from the rest of the pack, thereby re-iterating the popular theory that defence wins you titles. Though they are No 8 on the list of most raiding points by a team, they top the defence charts with most tackle points: 226 in 19 matches.
In the last two matches, Patna Pirates have also shown greater tactical flexibility. While they went into halftime at 21-20 against the Titans, they were placed at 18-17 against Puneri Paltan earlier in the week. In both the matches, the Men in Green used the first half to assess the opponents’ weaknesses. They outscored Telugu 17-10 in the second half, earning nine points in tackle as opposed to three in the first half. Similarly, they outscored Pune 25-9 in the second, earning eight tackle points – five more than they did in the first half.
With three wins with a point-difference of eight or more this week, Patna have well and truly broken away from the pack.
Pardeep refuses to lay low
While his former team is flying high, Pardeep Narwal refused to lay low.
The most successful raider in the history of the league showed just why he has been so effective season after season. Narwal, who had struggled in the first half of season 8, returned to the stage fitter and hungrier this week.
After Narwal was benched during the match against Patna on 2 February, he has scored four successive Super 10s on the comeback. Narwal has been instrumental in UP Yoddha winning three out of their four matches this week and scale to No 3 on the leaderboard.
Looking a lot lighter on his feet, Narwal has barged through defences as coolly as he has tricked them. The raider’s most convincing performance of the season came during the Yoddhas 41-34 win over the Jaipur Pink Panthers this week. The first hint that Narwal had regained confidence came on the last raid of the first half. With four Jaipur players on the mat, Narwal kept two defenders pinned in the right corner. He sold a feint to the back-up defenders so that all four ended up on the right. Narwal calmly tagged a defender on the way back to claim a point. In the second half, he strong-armed two defenders, turned to find the escape route and stretched a hand past the mid-line to earn a super-raid.
While there were shades of his old self, the quick and strong Narwal has unleashed a whole new skill-set which the defenders will now have to come to terms with. He came up with another 14-point performance against Dabang Delhi, completely overshadowing Naveen Kumar in the game, to mark his return.
Pune continue to rise
Meanwhile, it is the breakthrough stars who continue to power Puneri Paltan’s rise through the ranks.
Most teams have at least one experienced raider to lead their challenge. But with Rahul Chaudhuri out of form and Nitin Tomar struggling for fitness early in the season, debutants Aslam Inamdar and Mohit Goyat took on the raiding responsibility for Pune.
And they have been crucial to the team’s recent surge. Pune has lost just one of their last eight matches and scored two big wins this week: 45-27 against Haryana Steelers and 51-31 over Telugu Titans. They have thus risen from No 11 on the table to No 7 after week 8.
With former India captain Anup Kumar in the coach’s seat, Inamdar and Goyat have formed a formidable partnership. Left-raider Inamdar is fast and strong and can power past defences. Goyat, who raids from the right, is more sprightly and slippery, making it difficult for rivals to keep them quiet for long phases in the match.
Their confidence seems to have rubbed off on the defence as well, which has looked more and more organized with every week. Sombir on the right corner has been the anchor. But Tomar, whose priority as a captain is to stay on the mat and marshal his team, has been helping out in the defence. The former wrestler has earned 12 tackle points and 39 raid points in 13 matches.
Pune is building momentum just at the right moment, and are currently only two points adrift of the top-six spot with a match in hand. The rush for the playoffs berth is about to get even more chaotic.
Patna Pirates bt U Mumba 47-36
Haryana Steelers bt Tamil Thalaivas 37-29
Gujarat Giants bt Telugu Titans 34-32
UP Yoddha bt Tamil Thalaivas 41-39
Patna Pirates bt Puneri Paltan 43-26
Dabang Delhi tie with Bengal Warriors 39-39
UP Yoddha bt Jaipur Pink Panthers 41-34
Puneri Paltan bt Haryana Steelers 45-27
Puneri Paltan bt Telugu Titans 51-31
U Mumba bt Bengal Warriors 37-27
Dabang Delhi bt Tamil Thalaivas 32-31
Gujarat Giants bt UP Yoddha 38-31
Bengaluru Bulls bt Jaipur Pink Panthers 45-37
Haryana Steelers bt U Mumba 37-26
Patna Pirates bt Telugu Titans 38-30
UP Yoddha bt Dabang Delhi 44-28
Puneri Paltan tie with Gujarat Giants 31-31
Deepti Patwardhan is a freelance sports writer based in Mumbai.