About two months back, when the Pro Kabaddi League was about to begin, Bengal Warriors were the one team that stood out on paper. Having retained star defenders Surjeet Singh and Ran Singh, and top raiders Maninder Singh and South Korea's Jang Kun Lee, they were touted as the favourites going into the sixth season.
Cut to November-end and Bengal are third in Zone B with six wins, four losses and two draws. It is not a bad performance, but have they lived up to their billing so far? No.
One of the teams ranked below them is Telugu Titans, who have put up a better all-round display, have played fewer matches (10 in comparison to Bengal's 12) and are expected to catch up as the tournament progresses. The two teams above Bengal are defending champs Patna Pirates and in-form Bengaluru Bulls, the former getting back into the groove with the two Narwals (Pardeep and Deepak) on song and the latter being led by a thunderstorm going by the name of Pawan Kumar Sehrawat. And if these three teams continue performing in this manner, Bengal might miss out on the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons.
In their match against Bengaluru on Friday, Bengal registered a last-gasp victory, winning 33-31. This was the first time any Zone B team was able to beat Bengaluru this season. Was that an achievement? Absolutely. Comeback? Maybe not.
In their win, Bengal captain and right cover Surjeet conceded eight points without a single successful tackle. The best defence on the day came from the right corner Ran Singh, who scored two points in the 40-minute match. Out of the score of 33, 24 points came from the raiders -- with Maninder single-handedly scoring 14 points. Only seven points came from the defence. In fact, the defence ended up being supported by raiders, doubling as covers, with Maninder and Ravindra Ramesh Kumawat contributing a fair bit with their assists.
Last year, in what was probably Bengal's best all-round display of any season, Surjeet, with 76 points, was second on the highest tackles tally. This year, he ranks twentieth with 27 points at an average of 2.08 tackles per match. Similarly, Bengal are ninth among 12 teams on total points conceded and tenth on tackle points scored.
The thing with kabaddi is that the defence has to back up the raiders. A team is likely to falter without strong support from the defence, even if the raiders are scoring well. For Bengal, Maninder might continue to score and Jang might yet strike form. But unless the defence stands up, or Surjeet comes up with a tactical masterstroke, the win over Bengaluru might be a case of too little, too late for the team.