Led superbly by Iranian Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh, Bengal Warriors clinched their maiden Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) title with a 39-34 win over Dabang Delhi in Ahmedabad on Saturday.
Bengal, who have effectively not lost to Delhi across three matches this season, join Jaipur Pink Panthers, U Mumba, Patna Pirates and Bengaluru Bulls as teams to have won the PKL -- Patna's three titles make them the only team with multiple titles.
What worked out for Bengal?
Tactical flexibility, especially in defence, came in handy for Bengal, especially as Delhi were quicker off the blocks. With Maninder Singh missing for the Bengal Warriors, the Delhi defence complemented their raiders perfectly in the early stages of the first half, inflicting an all out on Bengal inside eight minutes to go into an 11-3 lead.
However, Bengal came back strong in the rest of the first half, ending it with a 17-17 tie, with Nabibakhsh leading the way with seven raid points off just eight raids made, including one Delhi all-out where the two Delhi defenders he faced had appeared to pull off a Super Tackle on him.
The Bengal defence upped their game in the second half -- with the experienced Jeeva Kumar standing out -- and were even able to keep Naveen Kumar quiet despite the latter recording a 22nd Super 10 for the season, to pull away to a nine-point lead with five minutes to go. At the other end, they had raids coming in from across the board that kept the pressure on Delhi, with Sukesh Hegde particularly hard to contain.
What went wrong for Dabang Delhi?
They came. They saw. They looked like they might conquer. Instead, they froze.
Considering the start, Delhi just needed to keep their consistency going through the rest of the contest, but instead started conceding soft points both in defence and while raiding. Perhaps it was the pressure of the occasion, but they might also have missed out on a couple of potential reviews when they were going neck-and-neck with the opposition.
An injury to the impressive Anil Kumar, in the course of trying to stop Nabibakhsh, also didn't help as it seemed to throw their balance off. The wheels were quick to come off in the second half, and once Bengal pulled away from them, there seemed to be only one winner.
What can Delhi take out of this campaign?
Though they lost the title, it's a season that Dabang Delhi will look back on fondly. They have made rapid strides from previous seasons, and their maiden final showed that they have the makings of a team that could be even more competitive in the season to follow, provided they are able to keep the core of the team together.
Naveen, in particular, has left his imprint in a big way on this season, bringing up 300 raid points in the final, his 23rd match. A title would have been the icing on the cake, but the better team on the night won the day with players across the squad responding to the challenge.