From a thrill-a-minute tie to a star on the wane, here are the biggest talking points from the first week of the Pro Kabaddi League.
Who impressed, who disappointed
The most valuable player (MVP) of the week was Pardeep Narwal. Consistent, quick and dependable, Pardeep has been the X-factor for defending champions Patna Pirates since season 3. Scoring 15 raid points in their opening match, Pardeep led his team -- in his first match as captain -- to a 35-29 win against the Telugu Titans. The most crucial point of the match came when Patna were trailing by a point and Pardeep scored a Super Raid - a raid where a raider touches more than two defenders from the opposing team - as he ducked and jumped across three defenders from the Titans to reach the mid-line, giving his team a lead they held on to till the very end. He scored 12 raid points in his next match, giving the defending champions another win by a big margin.
The most disappointing player (MDP) was the experienced Rakesh Kumar from the Telugu Titans. The Titans have played six games already, but Kumar has only managed to score six raid and 11 tackle points. Kumar hasn't been able to capitalise on his vast experience, scoring empty raids even at crucial points. While Kumar, previously the captain of the national team, is no longer representing India, he has been a consistent performer in previous seasons of the PKL. With Rahul Chaudhari captaining the Titans this season, Kumar has not been the preferred raider and has also been overshadowed by the young Vishal Bhardwaj in defence.
Panga of the week
The panga (clash) of the week deservingly goes to the first tie of the season between the two debutant teams: Gujarat Fortune Giants vs. Haryana Steelers. Ending at 27-27, the high-voltage match was full of excitement and drama. Haryana and Gujarat were almost neck-to-neck when Surender Nada, Haryana's captain and primarily a defender, came to raid. The inexplicable move failed as he was successfully tackled. A minute later, Mohit Chhillar was gone too. Suddenly, Haryana, who had scored more than half of their points through defence, were without their two most experienced defenders. With Gujarat leading 22-13, the game was headed for a largely one-sided finish before a dramatic u-turn involving back-to-back successful raids from Vikash Khandola and Surjeet Singh brought it back to 24-24, all in a span of six minutes.
In kabaddi, it's usually expected that the team leading in the last minute goes on to win, but here, the lead kept shuffling with three successful raids as the match finally ended in a tie. Phew!
Tactical genius and dud
In a team full of new names, Gujarat Fortune Giants' captain Sukesh Hegde has rotated his resources well and brought about a sense of unpredictability. His tactical soundness helped the Giants to not just combat the team with the strongest defence on paper - Haryana Steelers with the likes of Nada and Mohit Chhillar, but also register a six-point win over the experienced Delhi Dabang KC in their first match.
Rahul Chaudhari might have become the first man to score 500 raid points in the league, but as a captain, he has been disappointing. Telugu Titans have lost five back-to-back games out of the six they've played so far - pretty much their worst losing streak since season one - and Rahul has to shoulder the blame to a certain extent. Unlike Sukesh, Rahul hasn't rotated his team too much and has attempted most of the raids for his team, highlighting the team's over-reliance on him.
Can you imagine a newcomer leading the list of most number of tackle points, above the likes of the experienced Nada, Nilesh Shinde and Mohit? If you can't, you haven't heard of Vishal Bhardwaj from Telugu Titans. Scoring 17 tackle points in six matches, young Vishal, in his first PKL, has shown a good understanding of the game and has held his own in the left corner. He has a strong presence of mind and is quick to grapple a raider attacking from any corner of the court.
Another noteworthy performer has been Vikash Khandola from Haryana Steelers. In a team largely dependent upon its defenders, Vikash has scored 13 raid points in two matches. His seven raid points against Gujarat helped Haryana overturn a nine-point deficit, helping them end the match in a tie. His confidence has helped him thrive under pressure.
Who else but South Korea's Jang Kun Lee? Bengal Warriors have played just once in the league so far, but with eight raid points in one match, Jang was dominant in attack and impressive in defence throughout the 40 minutes, not once looking worn out. His athletic prowess and optimum utilization of space is something any defender would do well to be wary of.
Team of the week
With some teams having played as many as five matches and some having played just just one, it is difficult to single out a team, but Team Gujarat have still managed to stand out. Powerful defence and all-out aggression have set them apart from other teams. With Sukesh leading by example and Iran's Fazel Atrachali marshaling the defence, the team has been unbeaten in two matches and is currently at the top of the table with eight points in Zone A.
The new teams are a revelation. They aren't here to watch and learn, but play and win. Haryana and Gujarat have been very strong, while UP Yoddhas are looking good too. They have picked well at the auction and their combination of new faces and deep bench strength has served them well in the opening week.