Remember Pardeep Narwal's epic eight-point raid? Or Bengal Warriors' miraculous tie against eventual champions Patna Pirates in the play-offs? The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) is back this Sunday with its sixth season and here's your guide on what to watch out for.
What's the format like?
The three-month format - introduced last year - continues in Season 6 as the 12 participating teams are divided into two zones of six teams each. Every team will play a set of 15 intra-zone and seven inter-zonal matches - in the 'Inter-zonal challenge week'. The top three teams of each zone will then head to the Super play-offs, comprising the qualifiers and eliminators, in which the top-ranked team from the two zones will get one extra opportunity to qualify for the final.
Will the wildcard week cause havoc?
A wildcard week will be held in Kolkata from December 21-29, right before the play-off week, where teams will compete following a draw-of-lots, for another chance to enter the final six. Interestingly, the format was adopted in Season 5 as well, but the play-off results weren't affected as the top six remained the same. With increased amount of competition this year, this format can definitely shake up the line-ups in the final week of competition.
Who are the players to watch out for?
There are the usual PKL suspects - Pardeep Narwal, Rahul Chaudhary, Surender Nada and Ajay Thakur. But the three-month format last year saw the emergence of a few newer players. Rotations were necessary, team sizes expanded (from 10-12 players till 2016 to 18-25 players per team in Season 5) and therefore, names looming in the shadows shot to prominence. Players like Monu Goyat - the highest-bid player this season, Rishank Devadiga, young raider Sachin, defender Vishal Bhardwaj, foreign players like Iran's Abozar Meghani and Fazel Atrachali came to the spotlight and will continue to be the names that their teams rely on this season.
Any must-watch matches?
Oh, yes. The best thing about the PKL is that you never know when new rivalries might develop. But a few must-watch matches this tournament would be between three-time champions Patna and Bengal, who have, time and again, proved to be the most difficult opponents for the otherwise almost-unbeatable team. One more match-up that gained prominence last year was Patna vs. last season's finalists Gujarat Fortune Giants - the only team that managed to defeat the Pirates twice last season.
A rivalry no more?
This was a match-up that fans used to look forward to. Jaipur Pink Panthers, the winners of Season 1 vs. U Mumba, the winners of Season 2. While both teams look strong this year too, the backbones of both teams - Jasvir Singh (Jaipur) and Anup Kumar (Mumba) have moved onto other teams. Without Anup's razor-sharp tactics and Jasvir's high-paced raids, these matches will no longer be the same. Whether it will affect the popularity of these contests remains to be seen.
Will Patna win again?
Perhaps not, at least on paper. While it's too early to predict whether Patna can clinch a fourth consecutive time, one thing to keep in mind is that the team is no longer the same. With Monu Goyat now a part of the Haryana Steelers, the onus will again fall on Pardeep Narwal to score the bulk of the raid points. But after a low-key performance at the Kabaddi Masters and the Asian Games earlier this year, Narwal's form isn't at its best and Patna might struggle slightly, at least in the beginning, until raider Deepak Narwal finds his groove in his new team. On paper, Bengal Warriors, with the kind of momentum they had last season - plus the fact that they have retained captain Surjeet Singh, Jang Kun Lee and Maninder Singh, who formed the core of the team - look like the team to beat in Season 6.