As the Pro Kabaddi League Season 6 comes to a close, ESPN picks out six things that no one saw coming.
The rapid rise of Pawan Kumar Sehrawat
The most bizarre-yet-brilliant development came via Bengaluru Bulls' Pawan Kumar Sehrawat. For a raider who had an average tally of one raid point a match in the last two seasons, Sehrawat's form in PKL 6 was unprecedented. Coach Randhir Singh Sehrawat clearly knew what no one else did. The team roped him in for Rs. 52.8 lakh - a 282.61% increase from his 2017 auction price of 13.8 lakh - and what a masterstroke that turned out to be. Known for his quick, blink-and-you-miss running hand touches, he ended with a whopping average of 11.29 raids per match and also finished on top of the total points, total raid points and super raids tally, surpassing PKL king Pardeep Narwal in the process.
Nitesh Kumar's ton of tackles
If Nitesh Kumar was a raider, 100 points probably would not have been that big a deal. But then, he's not. He's a defender, and getting this many points as a defender is something the Pro Kabaddi League has not seen before. To give some perspective, the most a defender had scored in the three-month format introduced in 2017 was 80 points, scored by Surender Nada - India's top defender and left corner. This year, UP Yoddha's right corner Nitesh, a 21-year old, in only his second season in the PKL came and scored a rare - and the first - century by a defender in just 25 matches. His consistency became a talking point and now it won't be a surprise to see the young player in the Indian team as well, making the troublesome right corner position his own.
Patna's failure to make the play-offs
Now this was quite something. Patna Pirates had been one of the most consistent teams since the beginning of the PKL, never missing out on a play-off spot since the first edition of the league in 2014. They finished third in Season 1, fourth in the next and won the next three. And so, no one would have expected them to not even make the play-offs in season 6. This year, though, that's exactly what happened. Pardeep Narwal's solo act could not save the team, as they eventually finished outside the top three in their zone after losing out on the final playoffs spot to a resurgent UP Yoddha outfit.
No glory for multi-starrers
Jaipur Pink Panthers and Tamil Thalaivas were two of the most star-studded and experienced teams this season and among the pre-tournament favourites. Jaipur comprised Deepak Niwas Hooda, Anup Kumar, Bajirao Hodage and Mohit Chillar. Tamil had Ajay Thakur, Jasveer Singh, Sukesh Hegde and Manjeet Chhillar. However, both teams flopped this season, ending 5th and 6th respectively in their zones. The teams looked promising on paper, but failed to make a mark as a whole, unable to click as a unit and being over-reliant on captains Deepak and Ajay.
Anup Kumar bidding adieu
The biggest, but perhaps most understated, shocker of the season came when kabaddi legend Anup Kumar announced his retirement from the game. The announcement came after Jaipur Pink Panthers failed to make the play-offs stage. No one saw it coming. Known for maintaining composure in high-pressure situations, 'Captain Cool' Anup had previously led U Mumba to victory in the second season of the PKL in 2015 after guiding them to a runner-up finish in season one. Having recently completed 15 years in the game, he had also captained India to the title at the Kabaddi World Cup in 2016.
Dabang Delhi's play-off debut
Dabang Delhi had been the exact contrasts of Patna Pirates. Since 2014, they had never made the play-offs, almost always finishing in the bottom two. This season, though, came their breakthrough. With Chandran Ranjit and Ravindar Pahal leading the raiding and defence departments respectively and Naveen Kumar emerging as the best teenaged player of the season, they displayed a commanding and power-packed performance throughout the three months of competition, even beating pre-tournament favourites Bengal Warriors in the eliminators to finish fourth.