The second month of Season 7 of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) has concluded, and one look at the points table will tell you that a lot has changed since the first month. While some teams are on the upswing, a few are already all but out of contention for the upcoming playoffs.
Here are our takeaways:
When the GOAT strikes, Patna fly
Pardeep Narwal has long been considered the GOAT of the PKL. And while several other players - read Pawan Kumar Sehrawat and Naveen Kumar - are also dominating the points table, Pardeep has been instrumental in scripting an incredible comeback for the three-time champions. From being the bottom dwellers in the first month, they are, at present, ninth in the table - which is more significant than the three-place jump might seem on paper.
In the eight matches Patna played in the first month, Pardeep scored 65 points. In the next eight that followed, he scored almost double - 125 at an average of more than 15 points per match. While their win count in both months has remained the same with three wins each, one thing has been particularly eye-catching this month. Owing to their captain's performance, whenever Patna have won, they've done so by huge margins -- including a massive 26-point win against Tamil Thalaivas -- and when they've lost, the margins have been closer, including a 39-40 loss against Bengaluru Bulls. And because of this, with three weeks to go for the playoffs, they still have a real shot of going all the way again with Pardeep proving hard to stop.
Big names, bigger losses for Tamil Thalaivas
No one knows what's going on with the Thalaivas. Neither the viewers, nor the coach. And certainly not the players. A team comprising PKL poster boys Ajay Thakur and Rahul Chaudhari in the offence, along with experienced members in the defence like Manjeet Chhillar, Ran Singh and Mohit Chhillar, was always primed to be on top of the table. But what they have produced as a team is a recipe for disaster, with the Thalaivas looking likely to finish at the bottom of the table.
It's not like there's no saving grace. Rahul is in good form, and they have found a dependable raider in V Ajith Kumar. But the defence has been a flop in more ways than one. Furthermore, this team has a tendency of giving away their leads with the silliest of mistakes - they've made unnecessary challenges, sloppy decisions in defence at crunch times - instead of building on their momentum. They have also benched captain Ajay Thakur in their last few matches. What's even more glaring is that in the seven matches they've played in the second month, other than the one tie, they've lost every other match with a score difference ranging from five to 26 points. Need we say more?
Naveen Kumar for MVP
No team has been as comfortably on top of the points table as Dabang Delhi KC this season. They've played 16 matches, won 13, tied one and lost just two matches so far. They're ahead by a good six points from second-placed Bengal Warriors, who've also played one match more than Delhi. Their playoff position is all but certain. And the biggest reason for the team's impressive performance is 19-year-old Naveen Kumar, the youngest and the highest-scoring player of the team. He has set an unprecedented record, scoring 15 Super 10s so far -- that is, 10 or more points in 15 of their 16 matches. In the one match he didn't, he scored eight points - again the highest in the team.
Even as Pawan currently sits atop the highest scorers' tally owing to his surge in form in August, if someone truly deserves to be crowned as an MVP this season, it's Naveen, considering his unmatched level of consistency.
The race for top six gets tougher
There are several teams in line to make the top six this time as this season continues to be immensely competitive. Just like the unpredictable game of kabaddi, the points table has seen a lot of changes too. While this week saw UP Yoddha jumping to number four after an incredible performance by their left corner Sumit, teams like Puneri Paltan, U Mumba, Telugu Titans and Patna have also put in steady performances. Jaipur, too, despite being winless in their last eight matches, remain in contention considering their close losses.
The biggest reason for these teams battling it out so closely this year is that they are stepping up as a unit. Even though it took them a while to find rhythm, these teams now either have a solid partnership in their defence -- like Sumit and Nitesh Kumar in UP -- or a reliable combination in their offence, like Manjeet and Pankaj Mohite in Puneri. If this pattern is anything to go by, expect the unexpected come the play-offs.
Make way for the debutants
This season has seen a lot of newcomers shine. Sumit, arguably the top contender for the debutant of the year, has scored 58 tackle points in 17 matches - the second-highest scoring defender this so far this season - just one point shy of top-scorer Sandeep Kumar Dhull, who is vastly experienced. Then there's Ajith, who has been in top form despite the Thalaivas underperforming. He has utilised his limited chances to the optimum, scoring 89 raid points so far.
Pankaj Mohite, too, in his debut season has shone bright for Puneri. The team, which started off on a low considering their inexperienced raiders and Nitin Tomar's injury, has slowly made a mark, a key to which has been Mohite's rise as a raider. Even with Tomar back in the team now, Mohite has continued to thrive as the lead raider and is now a point away from reaching 100 points.
A special mention here goes to Iran's Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh, the surprise buy for the Bengal Warriors at the auctions. The all-rounder has had a tremendous effect in the team and has contributed in both offence and defence. In his debut season, he has become the most successful international player with 91 points, ahead of experienced players like Fazel Atrachali and Meraj Sheykh. He is also the third-highest scoring all-rounder so far, behind Deepak Niwas Hooda and Rohit Gulia (who have scored more than 90 per cent of their points through raids, unlike Nabibakhsh who has a much more even ratio between raid and tackle points), thereby proving himself worthy of his Rs. 77.75 lakh auction price.