ICYMI: Thalaivas stun Bengal; Delhi fall short again

Genesis BM

From spectacular heists to last-minute drama, the ninth week of the Pro Kabaddi League had it all. ESPN looks at the movers and shakers from the week gone by.

Who impressed, who disappointed

Ajay Thakur was the Man of the Match in the World Cup final last year and is one of the tallest players in the PKL. While he does not have the trickery of Pardeep Narwal, the speed of Jang Kun Lee or the raw power of Maninder Singh, he more than makes up for all of that by using his long arms to maximum effect.

The running-hand touch is his most favoured method of scoring raid points but he is also the most reliable player under pressure as his tally of do or die raid points suggests. With two Man-of-the-Match performances in the last week, Thakur pulled off two memorable heists with the last raid of the match against both Bengal Warriors and Gujarat Fortunegiants.

Dabang Delhi KC have won only one of their six matches at home so far and a lot of the blame has to go to their Iranian captain Meraj Sheykh, who is their main raider as well. Sheykh only scored 24 points in their six matches and his form tailed off at a time when his team needed him to step up. Delhi are stuck at the bottom of Zone A and will not progress to the next round even if they win all their remaining four matches. Communication has been a big problem for the side as Sheykh does not speak Hindi, which is the language spoken by most of his team-mates as well as the coach.

Panga of the week

Bengal Warriors have been one of the most impressive teams in the PKL this season. Out of the four new teams, Tamil Thalaivas have struggled the most and have mostly been rooted to the bottom of Zone B. So when these two teams met, a mismatch was on the cards.

Thalaivas led for most of the match but trailed by a point with five seconds to go. That left them with enough time for one last raid and their captain Ajay Thakur went for the jugular by aiming for two points instead of playing it safe and picking up a single point to tie the match.

The gamble paid off as Thalaivas caused one of the biggest upsets of the year with Thakur scoring eight raid points, most of them coming in the latter stages of the second half. Thalaivas eventually won 33-32.

Tactical genius and dud

While Pardeep Narwal might not come across as a natural leader, he has quietly gone about his own business and has been an instrumental part of Patna Pirates' unabated success. He has let the vastly experienced Vishal Mane and Monu Goyat organise the defence and has mastered the art of earning bonus points while raiding, in the process taking a lot of pressure off the other raiders.

Pardeep has also chewed up a lot of time when his team have been ahead by a big margin - as has often been the case - by simply aiming for the bonus point and only scoring in do or die raids, ensuring that the opposition have no way of clawing back into the contest.

Sukesh Hegde has played a key role as captain for the Fortunegiants and has been one of the best captains for most of the league but he looked mentally and physically jaded in the last week as the team lost against Thalaivas despite leading by ten points with ten minutes left in the match. Hegde was consigned to the bench for the majority of the second half and his young team floundered to lose the match by a point in the absence of clear leadership.

Upcoming star

Telugu Titans won both their matches this week and a lot of it had to do with their solid defence, where 19-year-old Sombir has stood out. Having only played two matches before this season, Sombir, who plays as right corner, has struck a strong partnership with 20-year-old left corner Vishal Bhardwaj.

Sombir has been particularly good when there have been three or lesser people in defence; his six Super Tackles are second to only Jeeva Kumar (7) this year. The Titans are making a late charge for the playoffs on the back of their young defenders giving solid support to Rahul Chaudhari's prolific raiding.

International khiladi

In a season where most foreign players have struggled to perform well, Iran's Mohsen Maghsoudlou has been a standout performer for the Titans in the limited opportunities that he has received. Despite being mostly used as a substitute, Maghsoudlou has provided the team with another bankable raider besides Chaudhari.

He has also helped out the defence despite being a raider primarily and has effected a couple of crucial tackles so far.

Team of the week

Warriors and Fortunegiants have been two of the most consistent teams in the first two months of PKL 5 but Tamil Thalaivas defeated both of them in a single week and that makes them our team of the week. The win against the Fortunegiants was particularly memorable as they trailed for the entire duration of the match but ended up winners as Ajay Thakur scored two points with the final raid of the match.

Though Thalaivas are still at the bottom of Zone B, they have played the least matches in their group. With their home leg starting on Friday, a good home run will see them enter the top three and move closer to a playoff position.

Final word

Patna Pirates, Bengal Warriors and Gujarat Fortunegiants look more or less certain to occupy three of the six playoff positions. With Titans and Thalaivas starting to play much better, Zone B has opened up, with all the six teams in that zone in contention for a playoff spot.