The final of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) Season 6 was to be a Bengaluru Bulls vs. Gujarat Fortunegiants contest. After the game, one could be forgiven for thinking it was, instead, Pawan Kumar Sehrawat vs. the Gujarat Fortunegiants.
Sehrawat capped off his PKL season the way he began it - by racking up points in quick, unstoppable fashion to finish Saturday's final with 22 points from 25 raids, carrying the Bulls to a 38-33 win and their first PKL title in their second final.
By the end of the first half, however, if the Bulls were to win, it didn't seem likely that it was going to come from Sehrawat's hand touches. After the Bulls demolished Gujarat's defence 41-29 in Qualifier 1 to make the final, Gujarat appeared to have learned their lesson. Their defence was careful and tightly organized during every Bulls raid. Sehrawat darted forward and back, left and right, but despite his sharp changes of pace and direction, Gujarat's defenders were up to the challenge. The key, Gujarat seemed to have realised, was to make their tackles of Sehrawat count. Sehrawat finished the half with four points from seven raids, not a particularly poor effort, but given that he'd spent a fair bit of the half off the court and that Bulls captain Rohit Kumar was misfiring, his first-half performance seemed below-par.
With Sehrawat getting tackled, Bengaluru changed their approach in the second half. Perhaps forced, in part, by Rohit's poor raiding, their strategy was to make the most of Sehrawat's time on court. From their sixth raid of the half onwards, Sehrawat went out for 10 consecutive raids, a decision that brought the Bulls back into the match. After 137 matches and almost three months of action, Sehrawat - arguably the best player this season - has created enough of a buzz that the crowd clearly wanted another star performance from him. With each successful raid from him and every empty raid from Gujarat, the scoreboard gap between the two dwindled and the cheering, clapping and overall decibel levels grew louder, reaching a crescendo when Bengaluru went from 12-19 down to 25-24 at the end of his 10-raid run. By the end, Sehrawat had accounted for 18 of his team's 25 raids and 18 of their 29 points in the second half.
Sehrawat alluded to this strategy after the match. "The plan A was to use Rohit as the main raider, plan B was to use me if Rohit doesn't do well," he said after the game, adding that he'd felt no pressure in the final because of Bengaluru's win in Qualifier 1. When asked to explain his sudden, staggering form, Sehrawat said, "(Coach) Randhir Singh Sehrawat was the only one to trust me and any player would do well if the coach shows confidence in him and gives him a long run of games."
Sehrawat's performance - the best ever by a raider in all finals - was remarkable, no doubt, but Gujarat had a role to play in it as well. After booking their place in the final, captain and defender Sunil Kumar said his team had learned his lesson from Qualifier 1, as well as from past matches where they'd let leads slip. But in the end, the final was effectively a repeat of Qualifier 1. Sunil was too slow to track back and Parvesh Bhainswal, his partner in defence, went out of bounds on several occasions. The net result was that Sehrawat racked up several ridiculously easy raids as Gujarat's defence crumbled again, completing them within seconds, including a couple of two-point raids and an All Out that took the score from 32-29 to 36-29, all but sealing the match.
Gujarat coach Manpreet Singh, who led Patna Pirates to their first title in Season 3 in a team that included Rohit, was looking to become the first to win the league as player and coach. Instead, he was left ruing that his team have now lost consecutive finals to spectacular one-man efforts.
"Perhaps it wasn't in our fate to win the title this year."