Here's all you need to know about the auction for PKL's seventh season:
How many players can each franchise sign?
Each franchise can buy anywhere between 18 and 25 players in the auction, with 18 being the minimum. Given the physical demands of a three-month-long season, teams will be looking to fill up their 25-player quota and ensure adequate bench strength. 442 players from 14 countries will be up for grabs this year, while in last year's auction, the player pool consisted of 422 players from 15 countries.
Which players have been retained?
A total of 29 players - including big names such as Pardeep Narwal, Ajay Thakur, Rohit Kumar and last year's MVP, Pawan Kumar Sehrawat - have been retained by 11 teams. While the number of players retained from the previous season's squad was increased from one to four last year, this year the number of players that comprise the 'Elite Retained Players' category has been increased to six. Franchises can retain up to six Elite players from either category A, B or C, with a maximum of two each from category A and B.
In addition, the league has introduced 'Retained Young Players', a new category under which teams can retain players picked under the 'New Young Players' category, once those players have finished two seasons with PKL. These retained young players are over and above the existing cap of six new young players a franchise can have. Moreover, each team is required to have a minimum of two foreign players and a maximum of four in their roster for the upcoming season.
In effect, teams will now be able to maintain continuity by keeping a majority of their existing squad, which was exactly the objective, according to league commissioner Anupam Goswami.
"The league is cognisant of the significance of squad continuity and long-term association of players with their respective teams. With this realisation, VIVO Pro Kabaddi has consistently strengthened its Player Retention Policy to facilitate and augment squad continuity, to benefit players as well as their teams," Goswami said in a press release.
Who's hitting the reset button this time?
Last year, U Mumba, Jaipur Pink Panthers, and UP Yoddha started from scratch, not retaining a single player. This time, Puneri Paltan are the only team clearing out their entire roster. Pune will perhaps be under a little more pressure than the other teams to spend their purse of Rs. 4.4 crore - an increase over the Rs. 4 crore for each team last year - in a sensible, strategic manner.
Having missed out on the playoffs last season after finishing fourth in Zone A, the Pune management decided the team needed a new coach as well. Ashan Kumar has been replaced by Anup Kumar, the 'Captain Cool' of Indian kabaddi. Anup, who led India to Asian Games gold medals in 2010 and 2014, as well as the World Cup in 2016, captained U Mumba to the title in Season 2 and runner-up finishes in Season 1 and 3. In December last year, he announced his retirement after a group-stage game for Jaipur, who bought him for a relatively low price, by his standards, at last year's auction.
"As a coach, this will be my first stint and I will concentrate on improving our team's skills, fitness and presence of mind on the mat," Anup said about his new role.
What's different this year? What's the same?
Last year, Season 6 began on October 7 and ran till January 5, 2019, the change in schedule due to the Asian Games in September. This year, Season 7 will get underway on July 19 and will likely run until the third week of October, similar to Season 5, which ran from July 28 to October 28, 2017.
Also featuring at the auction is the 'Final Bid Match (FBM)' card, which was introduced last year and gives a franchise the option to buy a player that was a part of their squad in the previous season by matching the final bid made for him by any other team at the auction. If a team has retained the maximum allowable number of six players, they get no FBM card; teams with five retained players get one FBM card and those with four retained players or less get two FBM chances. Last year, Rahul Chaudhari and Rishank Devadiga were retained by Telugu Titans and UP, respectively, using the FBM card.
Like in 2018, this auction will comprise 74 young players, out of about 3000 applicants, from the Future Kabaddi Heroes (FKH) program - an initiative of the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India and PKL, wherein several youngsters from cities and villages are shortlisted and trained to help them secure a future in the game.
Players to watch out for
While several names on the list of retained players are expected ones, there are some notable omissions, such as Rahul, Rishank, and Nitin Tomar. Also not retained are Siddharth Desai, who won best debutant last season, and Monu Goyat, who received the highest bid of Rs. 1.51 crore from Haryana Steelers last year.
Among the 53 players from 13 countries other than India featuring in the player pool, arguably the biggest names are South Korea's Jang Kun Lee and Iran's Abozar Mighani, while most of the Iranian players, including Meraj Sheykh and Fazel Atrachali, have been retained.
What kind of bids can we expect?
PKL's biggest names have fetched increasingly high amounts at each successive auction. UP's bid of Rs. 93 lakh for Nitin Tomar was the highest of Season 5. Last year, six players broke the one-crore mark. With big names and exciting youngsters in the fray this time too, it will not be a surprise if the one-crore mark is breached this time around as well.