The Pro Kabaddi League is back with its fifth season and is already grabbing headlines. The league has added four new teams, expanded to over 13 weeks and set new records in the two-day auctions. As the auction drew to a close on Tuesday, here are five thoughts on how it shaped up and impacted the teams.
All-rounders and younger players preferred over the experienced
The PKL Season 5 auction has broken several records. From last year's highest bid of 53 lakh to this year's 93 lakh, several players have seen a big hike in pay. Nitin Tomar, who started his PKL career only in 2016, received an amount more than four times the value of his base price of Rs. 20 lakh from Team UP. Teams favoured the younger players and all-rounders, perhaps in order to avoid injury layoffs and ensure bench strength in a three-month long season.
Several experienced players like Shabeer Bapu, Kashiling Adake, Rakesh Kumar, Surjeet Singh and Dharmaraj Cheralathan, aged above 30, received bids lesser than Rs. 50 lakh. Defender Mohit Chhillar, who received the highest bid last year, got a bid of 46.50 lakh -- 6.5 lakh lesser than the previous year, despite performing well. However, all-rounders like Manjeet Chhillar and Sandeep Narwal, and young players like Selvamani K, Rohit Kumar and Tomar, who are relatively new to the circuit, have been paid better. The fitness of younger players and the versatility of all-rounders could be the reasons behind their high prices.
International players gaining more popularity
The inaugural PKL in 2014 featured very few well-recognized international players. Through the years, international players have seen a rise, both in terms of popularity and in terms of the quality of play. Players from Iran and South Korea in particular, have picked up the game well, which has been evident in their form on the international stage as well. Jang Kun Lee from South Korea and Meraj Sheykh from Iran were two of the seven players retained by the eight existing teams.
Similarly, as the new teams were allowed to choose one elite player as a 'priority pick,' Team Gujarat went for Iran's Fazel Atrachali. Abozar Mohajermighani from Iran got a bid of Rs. 50 lakh from Gujarat, becoming the most expensive foreign player of the tournament, while Thailand captain Khomsan Thongkham, who was instrumental in leading a young and relatively new team to the semi-finals of the World Cup, received Rs. 20.4 lakh from Haryana Steelers. Their experience justifies their price-tags and they could be useful sounding boards for their captains and coaches in PKL.
Haryana defence looks the best on paper
With Surender Nada as their priority pick and Mohit Chhillar as their core defender, Haryana Steelers have the two strongest tacklers in the country. Surender and Mohit have formed a formidable partnership in the left and right corners of the defence since the last two years, for the Bengaluru Bulls in the PKL as well as for the national team at the World Cup. Their chemistry could turn out to be the difference this year.
New teams buy well
The four new teams - Gujarat, UP, Haryana and Tamil Nadu - have bought well. While Gujarat have focused on bankable names like Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mohajermighani, UP have gone for all-rounders like Nitin Tomar, Rajesh Narwal and Rishank Devadiga. Haryana Steelers have adopted a more pragmatic approach, picking all their players at comparatively reasonable bidding prices with Surender Nada and Mohit Chhillar leading their defence. Tamil Nadu have picked an experienced team, comprising reliable names like Ajay Thakur and Amit Hooda, which might give them an edge in the tournament.
Veterans show depth
U Mumba, winners of Season 2, stand out for their depth. Led by the calm and experienced Anup Kumar, also the captain of the Indian national team, U Mumba's team includes dependable raiders like Shabeer Bapu and Kashiling Adake, and all-rounders like Kuldeep Singh and Hadi Oshtorak.
Jaipur Pink Panthers did not to retain any players, and instead turned to players like Manjeet Chillar - who has been one of the most successful all-rounders in the PKL, along with Jasvir Singh and Selvamani K. Winners in 2014 and runners-up in 2016, Jaipur are coached by India's national coach Balwan Singh, and have been one of the most tactically astute teams in the tournament in previous years.
Bengal Warriors, having retained Jang Kun Lee and bought Surjeet Singh, are one more team to keep an eye on. While they have been over-reliant on Jang in the past, the addition of Deepak Narwal, Maninder Singh and Ran Singh gives them more options in attack, an area they have sometimes struggled in in the past.