From an entertaining match involving two struggling sides, to Ajay Thakur's brilliance, ESPN presents the talking points of the week gone by in season 5 of the Pro Kabaddi League.
Who impressed, who disappointed
Puneri Paltan lost one match and won another this week. After being outsmarted in defence in a 20-24 loss to Bengaluru Bulls, Pune bounced back in style, dominating Haryana Steelers to win 38-22. The credit for that one-sided victory goes almost single-handedly to the captain Deepak Niwas Hooda, who scored 13 raid points against one of the best defensive sides in the league. Assisted by Sandeep Narwal in defence, Hooda took advantage of Haryana's slow start to put Pune 18-6 at half-time. Through Deepak Kumar Dahiya, who scored 11 raid points, Haryana attempted a comeback in the second half but they had too big a deficit to make up by then.
Hooda has scored 60 raid points out of his 64 total points in 10 matches. Although his 72 empty raids, as a proportion of 153 attempted, are somewhat high, where he has impressed most is with his calm and composed captaincy, which is not unlike that of U Mumba skipper Anup Kumar, the 'Captain Cool' of Indian kabaddi. Now well-placed at fourth in Zone A, Pune - and the top three teams - have seven wins to their name.
The most disappointing player this week was Telugu Titans captain Rahul Chaudhuri for the role he played in the missed opportunity that was his team's 31-32 loss to Bengal Warriors. Chaudhuri managed a return of just three successful raids out of 14 attempted, with eight going empty and three unsuccessful, in a match where his team led 30-20 with seven minutes to go. That Titans managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory was in a large part due to Chaudhari's insipid captaincy.
Panga of the week
In a week that produced three draws - two involving Haryana - and two one-point wins, there were several choices for the best match, but our clash of the week goes to Tamil Thalaivas' 34-33 win over UP Yoddha. UP have struggled in large part this season due to captain Nitin Tomar's inability to live up to the hype that comes with being the most expensive player at this year's auction, while Thakur has been the only one to have delivered for Thalaivas.
Tomar did perform brilliantly on the day, though, with the first four of his 14 raid points helping UP lead 18-12 at the break. Thalaivas began their fightback in the second half, cutting the deficit to 20-23 in the 29th minute and to 23-26 with five minutes left.
Thalaivas subsequently forced an all out in the 38th minute and, despite a super raid from Tomar, got across the finish line due to a five-point burst from Thakur in the final minute.
Tactical genius and dud
Thakur is our tactical genius for his inspired play to get Thalaivas a last-gasp victory over UP. Going into the final minute, Thakur scored a raid point for Thalaivas to trail 30-31 before coming up with a moment of brilliance. Attempting to get away after a raid, Thakur was dragged to the side of the court by a UP defender, with as many as four more defenders closing in to complete the tackle. Amid the jumble of players, Thakur had the presence of mind to somehow extricate his relatively free left hand and stretch backwards for the centre line, earning three points to win Thalaivas the match.
Chaudhuri is our tactical dud for his continued failure as a raider and in his captaincy of the Titans, who are currently fourth in Zone B. A win against a team like Bengal would have given his struggling unit a massive confidence boost, but the Titans could not hold on to a 10-point lead with seven minutes to go. Chaudhari appeared to lack intent, accumulated too many empty raids, and got himself sent to the bench with an unsuccessful raid at a crucial juncture, with three minutes to go.
Jaipur Pink Panthers all-rounder Nitin Rawal played a key role in securing a 27-27 tie for Jaipur against Haryana. Rawal scored 11 points from six successful raids out of 17 attempted, with just one unsuccessful raid. His super raid in the 36th minute led to an all out for Haryana and tied the score after Jaipur trailed Haryana 17-9 at half-time.
Jang Kun Lee is our international player of the week for his nine raid points that helped Bengal come back from 20-30 down to beat Titans 32-31. With the score at 31-31, Lee scored his last point in the final seconds of the game to secure victory for Bengal.
Team of the week
So far, teams have struggled to play well at home, with only Gujarat Fortunegiants and Bengal boasting a strong record in front of their fans. Haryana have now joined those two teams by matching Bengal's home record of two wins, two losses and two ties during their home leg in Sonepat. Haryana's current run leaves them at the top of Zone A with a three-point gap, making them an easy pick for team of the week.
A trend that has been observed is that an increasing number of teams that lead matches at the end of the first half end up being unable to hold onto their lead in the second, leading to several draws and even lost matches from a winning position. Heading towards the season's business end, teams would do well to tighten up their defence.