A perfectly coordinated side, a clash between polar opposites and a miraculous comeback. ESPN presents the talking points of the week gone by at the Pro Kabaddi League Season 5.
Who impressed, who disappointed
Imagine being a part of a team that has Pardeep Narwal in it - he has been unstoppable this season, scoring an average of 10 raid points in every match. Now imagine scoring more than him in a match, that too in fewer attempts. That's what Monu Goyat achieved this week, making him our Most Valuable Player. He scored 11 raid points in 16 attempts, the most from any team in a match, when Patna Pirates clashed with Ajay Thakur's Tamil Thalaivas.
Defending champs Pirates, believed to be over-reliant on Pardeep for raids, are now strengthening their squad with Monu's experience aiding Pardeep's energy. Thalaivas, with a rather strong defence, kept sending Pardeep to the bench. What they didn't expect was Monu to come good every time to save the day.
He even pulled off a five-point raid, ousting three Thailavas in a single attempt, thereby inflicting an all-out in the process. His style? Easy and clean - he stretches his right arm forward and moves his left leg back, touches as many people as possible who are in his reach and glides his way back to the mid-line in a jiffy, often sending his opponents for a toss.
When raider Abolfazl Maghsoudlou was bought by Delhi Dabang KC for 31.8 lakhs, he became one of the top-paid international players in the league. His performance, however, hasn't lived up to the hype so far. This week, he scored eight raids in his team's match against hosts U Mumba but most of them came from the latter's sloppy defence.
He often appeared stiff while taking raids, which might be harmful for a side heavily dependent on captain Meraj Sheykh for raid points. Looking at the stats alone, he has attempted 61 raids - 29 of which have gone empty or without a point and eight have been unsuccessful. This makes him our Most Disappointing Player from Week 5.
Panga of the week
There was a feeling of déjà vu when Jaipur Pink Pathers clashed with U Mumba on the first day of the Mumbai leg. These two teams were the ones that played the inaugural match of the league, back in 2014. They also faced each other in the final of the ianugural PKL at the same venue. Thus, as the 'rivals' met again, two polar opposites met too: the calm-and-composed Anup Kumar and the verbal-and-snappy Jasvir Singh.
This time, Panthers won, but Mumba, who were once trailing 22-38, went for the jugular as Anup took charge, patiently scoring both tackle and raid points in the final 20 minutes, with the captain leading a fairly new team to a narrow 36-39 loss. What was even more interesting than the chase was actually the display that these two players put up: Jasvir scored 10 raids, leading from the front, but was often heard screaming at his team, continuously instructing them on what to do and how.
Anup, scoring four tackle and raid points each, on the other hand, maintained his motto: "patience banaye rakho (stay calm)," he was often heard telling his young team. He let them be, allowing them to figure things out on their own and while it took a while, they did come around - ultimately but fell a tad short.
Tactical genius and dud
If one person deserves the title of the tactical genius this week, it would easily be Bengal Warriors' Surjeet Singh. In what was perhaps one of the most interesting games in the league, Bengal, competing against the mighty Patna, were in for a difficult choice: With four minutes to go, Bengal trailed 27-35 as a time-out took place. The coach asked them to go safe and try and take a point from every raid from thereon.
Surjeet, on the other hand, wanted to go full throttle to inflict an all-out to take the game at least close to a tie. In the next two minutes, the unthinkable happened: they benched Pardeep, raider Deepak Narwal eliminated the then two-man opposition to inflict an all-out. The score went to 35-36 as Surjeet completed a Super 5 - enforcing five successful tackles - and managed to hold Patna to a miraculous tie.
Bengaluru Bulls were dismal this week, losing to Bengal Warriors 26-32. While losses are always a part of the game, this loss came from a series of comical communication errors within the team. Rohit Kumar, while being individually sound as a raider, wasn't able to guide his team as captain, ending up with a confused bunch of talented newcomers.
In one instance, which otherwise could have been an easy tackle, Virender from Warriors touched a defender as three other members of Bengaluru looked on. They never stopped him - nor did they attempt to stop the raider - and stared, almost clueless. Guidance is key in any match, and while Rohit, with his experience, knows what to do, he needs to buck up as captain to lead a rotating team that comprises several debutants.
This has been a week of newcomers with rotations taking place in most of the teams and one player that stood out most was defender Sunil Siddhgavali from Jaipur Pink Panthers. In what was his debut match against U Mumba, he was a threat from the word go, scoring six tackle points in 11 attempts. Side note: completing a Super 5 on debut is akin to a five-for on debut in cricket.
As Sunil - with firm grips and ankle-holds - emerged from the left cover, Mumba raiders found themselves puzzled. They soon began targeting him during raids, attempting to bench him as much as possible. Even then, Sunil displayed nous as he continued tackling and blocking the big raiders including Anup and Kashiling Adake to help Jaipur take a lead.
Hadi Oshtorak is not your typical strong-looking defender. He's lean and thin, heads the right corner of U Mumba and is often called in as a substitute. But whenever he's called up, he puts in a defining performance. The best thing about the defender is his presence of mind. In a kabaddi court, a raider is benched if he goes into the lobby - orange in colour - ahead of the boundary, without touching a member from an opposing team.
In the match against Delhi, as Meraj attempted a raid, he attacked his fellow Iranian. Sensing Meraj's step of action, Hadi simply put his leg backwards as Meraj jumped to touch him, causing the latter to fall directly into the lobby, and as a result being benched. In Mumba's match against Haryana, Hadi, once again, made the difference. Coming in as a sub in the final few minutes, he enforced two Super Tackles, saving his three-man team from getting all-out and giving them a crucial four-point lead in a match that Mumba eventually won 38-32.
Team of the week
Bengal Warriors have been rock-solid this week. In the two matches that they played, they displayed depth in both raiding and defence, winning one match by a significant margin, and tying the other, almost unbelievably. Their raiders have been consistent, with Deepak and Jang Kun Lee leading the scores, plus their defence has been near-perfect, coordinated and sound, led ably by the captain himself, well supported by the veteran Ran Singh.
Surjeet has led the team well, strictly ensuring that not too many people jump in during a tackle that a raider from an opposing team can finish. This strategy has enabled them to make sure of something that other teams are struggling with: to not concede extra points while defending and taking as many bonus points as possible during raids.
Depth is required for a team to do well in the long run. While kabaddi has always been a game excessively dependent on raiders, in a format like this, defence is equally important. Mumba have struggled because of a sloppy defence, easily conceding extra points to the raiders while Thalaivas have issues with their raiders.
Even though they do have a good defence and the consistent Ajay Thakur on their side, they don't have anyone else to build up on the raids. In their match against Patna, they lost 26-24, 14 out of which were raid points -- with 10 of them scored by Ajay alone. The teams, while rotating, need to keep this point in mind that there can be no one-man team in a league that lasts three months.