The newest season of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) is set to begin on July 28 in Hyderabad, where the Telugu Titans will take on debutants Tamil Thalaivas.
However, Season 5 is quite different from the earlier four editions. Here's why:
New teams, new format
In addition to the eight existing teams, the league now has four new sides - Gujarat Fortune Giants, UP Yoddha, Tamil Thalaivas and Haryana Steelers - involved, as a result of which the format has changed. The 12 teams will now be divided into two zones of six teams each. As per the fixtures, each team will play 15 intra-zonal and seven inter-zonal matches, the latter in an 'Inter-zonal challenge week'.
The top three teams from each zone will then move to the Super play-offs, comprising, like the IPL, of qualifiers and eliminators in which the top-ranked team from the zones will get one extra opportunity to qualify for the final.
The addition of four teams has also resulted in a longer league and this season will cover 13 weeks - from July 28 to October 28 - and span 138 matches spread across 12 states.
For the first four seasons, teams had a maximum of 10-12 players in their squads. However, the expanded league this year has called for larger squads and each team now comprises 18-25 players. Kabaddi rules allow only seven players per team per match, so squad rotation and bench strength will be vital to reducing the probability of injuries and avoiding player fatigue.
There's also a new rule this year that makes it mandatory for each team to have a minimum of two, and a maximum of four, foreign players; this will see international players from Bangladesh, South Korea and Thailand joining the tournament. Earlier, the only prominent international players to regularly compete in the league were Jang Kun Lee from South Korea and Iran's Meraj Sheykh.
With the introduction of inter and intra-zonal matches, there will be some key match-ups, including Bengal vs. Patna, Mumbai vs. Pune, and Haryana vs. Delhi, among others, where the rivalry involves not just teams but the states in which the teams are based. There will also be intriguing individual battles, such as between Ajay Thakur's Chennai against Fazel Atrachali's Gujarat. Ajay almost single-handedly won India the Kabaddi World Cup last year, beating Fazel's Iran side despite the latter's best efforts.
More prize money
In PKL's first season, in 2014, the highest bid was at Rs 12.80 lakh for Rakesh Kumar, the then captain of the Indian team. This season, Nitin Tomar received a bid of Rs 93 lakh - the difference being due to the impact that the PKL has had. Overall, Season 5 is bigger in terms of money, with each team having spent Rs. 4 crore on their players. Additionally, there's Rs. 8 crore in prize money up for grabs - Rs. 6 crore more than there was in Season 4. While the winning team will get Rs. 3 crore, the first and second runners-up will be awarded Rs.1.8 and 1.2 crore, respectively.