The seventh edition of the Pro Kabaddi League, which begins on Saturday, July 20, will consist of 132 group-stage matches. In addition, there will be five matches in the playoffs, with the final on October 19.
Given the number of matches and the three-month-long season, we decided to look at two weeks' worth of fixtures at a time and highlight the best ones to watch.
Here are the five most promising matches from the first two legs in Hyderabad and Mumbai, out of 22 matches spread over almost exactly two weeks:
(All times in IST)
Telugu Titans v U Mumba
When and where - 7:30PM, July 20, Hyderabad
The Season 7 opener's main point of interest is the performance of Siddharth Desai, the Titans' main raider, in general and specifically against his former team U Mumba.
In Season 6, Siddharth became the fastest to 50 raid points in a season. And although U Mumba made no impact in the playoffs, that they got there in the first place was largely thanks to Siddharth, who was named best debutant of the season. Given his performance, it was somewhat surprising that U Mumba chose not to retain him for this year. The Titans were the beneficiaries, though, as they shelled out Rs 1.45 crore, the highest bid at this year's auction, for Desai's services.
Besides Desai, the Titans didn't fare too well at the auctions. Their defence seems sound, but their raiding appears over-reliant on Desai. It was a similar story for U Mumba, whose main players are Iranian defender Fazel Atrachali and all-rounder Sandeep Narwal.
Will Siddharth be able to handle the responsibility of being the sole raider, as well as the pressure of expectations in his second season? Will U Mumba come to regret letting him go? This match, a potentially close one on paper, could offer some clues as to the answers.
Bengaluru Bulls v Patna Pirates
When and where - 8:30 PM, July 20, Hyderabad
The defending champions against the three-time champions whose reign was snapped last year. The raiding duo of Season 6 MVP Pawan Kumar Sehrawat and Rohit Kumar versus Pardeep Narwal, Indian kabaddi's 'Mr. Dependable', and Jang Kun Lee.
Across all six seasons, the win-loss-tie record between the two teams is 10-3-2 in favour of Patna. However, their three games last season were split 1-1-1, with both victories coming by small margins. In fact, Pawan referred to Bengaluru's 43-41 win over Patna, which put them top of the table over Patna at the time, as one of the memorable matches that first led Bengaluru to believe they could go all the way.
Pawan completed the season top of the raiding charts, with 282 raid points, well ahead of Pardeep's 233. This match will be the first chance for Pardeep to try to reclaim his mantle. On paper, this promises to be a high-scoring, high-octane game.
Bengaluru Bulls v Gujarat Fortunegiants
When and where - 7:30 PM, July 21, Hyderabad
The record between these two teams is 2-1-1 in favour of Bengaluru, with Gujarat's sole win coming in Season 5. Gujarat would gladly exchange that victory for one in their last two games against Bengaluru though, given that both were losses (in Qualifier 1 and the final of Season 6).
In both those games, Gujarat began well and held the lead in the first half before their defence crumbled, struggling to withstand the sustained pressure applied by Pawan. Their overdependence on raider Sachin Tanwar did not help either. At the auction, the addition of support raiders, while retaining their defensive core, strengthened Gujarat. As for Bengaluru, they could have done with an additional defender to support Mahender Singh.
While both teams will be looking to win, Gujarat might be extra keen to avoid a third straight loss to the defending champions. There's plenty at stake in this early rematch of last season's final.
Telugu Titans v Tamil Thalaivas
When and where - 8:30 PM, July 21, Hyderabad
This match will be another instance of a high-impact player turning out against his former side -- Rahul Chaudhari, who played for the Titans all six previous seasons, will pair up with India teammate Ajay Thakur for the Thalaivas.
Beyond Chaudhari vs Titans, it's the combination of Chaudhari and Thakur that makes this fixture so appealing. In both seasons of their existence, the Thalaivas' biggest issue has been the lack of raiding support for Thakur. Although Thakur scored 200+ points in the past two editions, the team finished bottom of the table both times. It was a similar case for the Titans, who did poorly despite Chaudhari's reasonably good individual performances.
The acquisition of Chaudhari was one of the best buys of this year's auction, one that has the potential to turn the Thalaivas' fortunes around. On Sunday, we will get our first chance to see if that might actually be the case.
U Mumba v Puneri Paltan
When and where - 7:30 PM, July 27, Mumbai
What better way to begin the Mumbai leg of the league than with another installment of the Maharashtra derby? This rivalry has been more competitive than Bengaluru v Patna, with an 8-5-1 win-loss-tie record in favour of U Mumba. Last year, the matches were split 1-1-1, with the tied match coming on the opening day.
Although U Mumba lead the rivalry, several matches have been close, won by a margin of two to three points. The appointment of Anup Kumar as coach of Paltan adds an element of interest to this matchup. Anup, the now-retired Captain Cool of Indian kabaddi, captained U Mumba for five seasons, leading them to one title and two runner-up finishes. He played for Jaipur Pink Panthers last year before calling time on his career towards the end of Season 6. The Paltan might be hoping their coach's inside knowledge proves helpful in closing the gap on U Mumba.