On the first day of the player auction for Season 7 of the Pro Kabaddi League, Siddharth Desai and Nitin Tomar earned bids of over Rs. 1 crore. In contrast, last year saw six players earn bids of a crore or more on Day 1.
Here are some of the takeaways from Monday's proceedings:
The (somewhat) surprising non-retention of Siddharth
While Pawan Kumar Sehrawat was by far the best player last season, the second-best was arguably Desai. At last year's auction, it was clear U Mumba were starting over as they chose not to retain Anup Kumar, who'd led the team to the the title, two runner-up finishes and one playoff place in five seasons. The acquisitions of Fazel Atrachali, PKL's first crorepati, and Desai signaled clear intent in the defence and attacking departments.
And Desai more than repaid the faith shown in him. He finished his debut season third on the list of raid points (218) and total points (221), and second on the list of Super Raids (10) and Super 10s (13). His proficiency in scoring off over two of every three raids helped him earn the best debutant award of Season 6.
All of this made it a little surprising that U Mumba chose not to exercise their Final Bid Match (FBM) to retain his services. It's likely that a shoulder injury Desai suffered in November, as well as the 1.45 crore his bid had reached by then, played a part in their decision. However, U Mumba were only a year into their rebuild and although they lost in their first Eliminator, Desai played a crucial role in getting the team back into the playoffs. His non-retention, therefore, raised eyebrows.
Resistance to overspending/big names take pay cut
In addition to the number of players who received bids of one crore of more, what was notable last year was the jump in the highest bid with respect to 2017. Where Nitin Tomar's Rs. 93 lakh was the highest bid for Season 5, Haryana Steelers dished out Rs. 1.51 crore on Monu Goyat for Season 6 -- a 62.3% increase in the highest bid.
The investment in Monu didn't pay off, however.
Although he managed 164 points from 20 matches, Monu never quite settled into the role of lead raider after playing the supporting role to Pardeep Narwal at Patna Pirates in Season 5. Haryana finished bottom of the table That seems to have made teams wary of spending too much on a single player -- a tactic that was presumably also due to the limiting effect such purchases had on the teams' options with regard to the rest of their squad.
This wariness showed. Haryana refused to use FBM to keep Monu. Rahul Chaudhari went from 1.29 crore last year to 94 lakh this time. Rishank Devadiga's value was almost halved, from 1.11 crore to 61 lakh. The only exception to this trend was Nitin Tomar, whose bid rose from 1.15 crore to 1.20 crore.
Emphasis on raider support, defence and experience
Unwritten rule 1 -- A quality defence usually proves the difference between winning and losing. Unwritten rule 2 -- A team over-reliant on one raider will struggle. Teams appeared to be sticking to these maxims during the auction.
Patna's title defence last season failed after they proved unable to replace the quality of Monu as the secondary raider, the one to add valuable points and step up when main man Pardeep had an off day. Rahul and Ajay Thakur both had strong individual seasons while their teams Telugu Titans and Tamil Thalaivas struggled. This led to teams clearly trying to get their primary-and-secondary-raider combination right. Patna picked Jang Kun Lee to support Pardeep, the Thalaivas chose Rahul to support Thakur and UP picked Monu and Rishank.
And while specialist raiders continued to be in high demand, receiving four of the five highest bids, defenders saw an increase in demand.
Bengaluru Bulls' defence was rarely tested last season, thanks to Pawan's excellence, but when it was, Mahender Singh stood firm. The defending champions paid double of the 40 lakh they paid last year to retain him. Runners-up Gujarat Fortunegiants shelled out 75 lakh, more than double the 35 lakh they paid last year, to keep Parvesh Bhainswal.
Another noticeable trend was that teams were willing to shell out substantial amounts for older, more experienced players, such as Surender Nada (75 lakh last year to 77 lakh), Ran Singh (35 lakh last year to 55 lakh last year) and Sandeep Narwal (retained last year to 89 lakh).
High demand for Iranian, Korean players
Players from Iran and South Korea have always been the two overseas nations that supply the greatest numbers of players to PKL's talent pool, but their demand only appears to have increased this time.
That is perhaps unsurprising given that the two nations' rise in international kabaddi has come alongside the relative decline of India's. Iran unseated defending champions India at the Asian Games last year, while Korea beat India at the Asian Games and at the 2016 World Cup.
The attractiveness of the Iranians was perhaps best underscored by the bid of 77.75 lakh for debutant Mohammad Nabibakhsh, a member of the national team. After lending solidity to the team in defence, Abozar Mighani was retained by the Titans. Patna bought Mohammad Maghsoudlou and Hadi Oshtorak, Pune picked up Hadi Tijak and Emad Sedaghat, the Thalaivas bid for Milad Shiebak and UP bought Mohsen Maghsoudloujafari.
As for the Koreans, apart from the always-in-demand Jang Kun Lee, U Mumba acquired Dong Geon Lee and Young Chang Ko and Jaipur bought Dong Gyu Kim.