Two-time defending champions Patna Pirates take on newcomers Gujarat Fortunegiants in the final of the fifth season of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) in Chennai on Saturday.
Gujarat have been, by far, the best team this season, losing only four of the 23 matches they've played. Patna, on the other hand, have lost seven matches but are on a three-match winning streak with their captain and lead raider Pardeep Narwal in imperious form. Their significantly-improved defence during the playoffs and the experience of having won two previous finals is likely to aid Patna.
Form guide (last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Gujarat won both their matches against Patna in the league stage and Abozar Meghani was the star in defence on both occasions. The powerful Iranian right corner tackled Patna's top raiders Pardeep and Monu Goyat successfully to keep them on the bench for a long duration of the match. Gujarat have conceded the least points this season and their formidable defence has been key in limiting opponents to low raid-point tallies.
While Pardeep and Goyat have rightly gotten a lot of accolades, 20-year-old all-rounder Vijay has largely flown under the radar but has made valuable contributions in defence as well as raids. Vijay has only gotten opportunities to raid when both Pardeep and Goyat are off court, because of which he has scored more tackle points (33) than raid points (24). His versatility has helped him play as left in or right in and he has been particularly effective with his precise ankle holds.
Probable team line-ups
Patna have stuck to the same starting seven in all three of their playoff matches and it will be no surprise to see an unchanged line-up for the fourth match in succession. Jawahar Dagar and Jaideep will man the right and left corner, respectively, while Vishal Mane and Sachin Shingade will play as right and left cover, respectively. Pardeep, Goyat and Vijay will be the three raiders again in all likelihood.
Gujarat coach Manpreet Singh has generally used the same four defenders in all their matches barring injuries and Fazel Atrachali (left corner), Meghani (right corner), Sunil Kumar (right cover) and Parvesh Bhainswal (left cover) are likely to start this match too. Manpreet is spoiled for choice when it comes to the raiders but Sachin, Mahendra Rajput and Ranjit Chandran might be the three raiders who start, with Sukesh Hegde, Rohit Gulia and Rakesh Narwal being the substitute raiders.
Battles to watch out for
Sachin vs. Jaideep
18-year-old Sachin has been Gujarat's most successful raider in his debut PKL season, standing out in a young team. Similarly, Jaideep has also been the standout performer in Patna's defence in his maiden season. With the experienced Sachin and right corner Jawahar Dagar having a relatively below-par season, Jaideep has often bailed the team out of trouble. With Sachin being particularly proficient at getting bonus points, Jaideep's ankle hold might come in handy for Patna.
Pardeep Narwal vs. Fazel Atrachali
Both Pardeep and Atrachali have led their teams by example, letting their performances do the talking. The irrepressible Pardeep has scored 18 Super 10s in just 24 matches but failed to score more than five points in either of the two matches against Gujarat in the league stage. Fazel was key to keeping Pardeep quiet in the first of those two matches and will have to be at his best again if Gujarat are to have a chance of keeping their unbeaten record against Patna intact.
The match may well be decided by the battle between Patna's raiders and Gujarat's defence. If Gujarat's defenders can consign Pardeep and Goyat to the bench for more than 15 minutes each, they could become the fourth team to win the PKL and Manpreet could become the first man to win the tournament as both player and coach, having been a part of Patna's title-winning team in 2015.