The seventh season of the Pro Kabaddi League saw the best two teams make the final and was one of the closest in the history of the league. As is the case with a sport as unpredictable as kabaddi, there were plenty of unexpected things that happened this season. We pick seven that surprised us the most:
1. Bengal Warriors becoming champions
Bengal had made the semi-finals in each of the last two seasons but they chose to let go of big names such as Ran Singh, Surjeet Singh and Jang Kun Lee before the auctions. The replaced them with relatively lesser-known players such as Rinku Narwal, Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh and K Prapanjan.
They also added the vastly experienced Sukesh Hegde and Jeeva Kumar as a safety net in case their younger, new acquisitions failed to perform. In spite of all that, few people would have counted Bengal among the favourites after the auction as the only star name they had was captain Maninder Singh.
They overcame all those odds with the expert guidance of coach BC Ramesh, who was Bengaluru Bulls' assistant coach in their title-winning run last year. The biggest factor that helped Bengal trump rivals with bigger names was their team spirit and selfless nature of play as they put the team's best interests over pursuit of individual glory.
2. Teenaged Naveen's Super 10 streak
When Naveen burst onto the scene in season six, he became the first player born in the 21st century to play in the PKL. He marked himself out as a player of promise and impressed observers as seasoned as former India captain Rakesh Kumar.
What he achieved this season, though, beggared belief. He scored a Super 10 in 22 of the 23 matches he played -- with 21 of them coming in succession. That he always played for the team and never for individual records make that feat even more special.
He might have gone away with the MVP award in just his second season in the league, while still being a teenager, but it was his tears at the end of the final that will stay in most viewers' memory long after the match.
3. Tamil Thalaivas finishing last again
Thalaivas have had a torrid time in the PKL, having never come close to making the playoffs and finishing last in each of the two seasons they had played
That seemed certain to change this season as their starting seven in their opening match this year featured names such as Ajay Thakur, Rahul Chaudhari, Manjeet Chhillar, Mohit Chhillar, Ran Singh and Shabeer Bapu.
The only big name who somewhat lived up to his reputation was Chaudhari, but he too was nowhere close to his best as the team made a promising start before going off the boil completely.
They will derive solace from young raider V Ajith Kumar's promising season but their treatment of their stars left most fans surprised. It was painful to see PKL legends such as Thakur, Manjeet and Shabeer warming the bench despite being fully fit and available. The team also took the bizarre step of firing their coach midway through the season.
4. Three-time champions Patna Pirates failing to make the playoffs again
Patna's failure to make the playoffs in the sixth season after winning the tournament in each of the previous three seasons came as big surprise to most followers of the league.
They seemed to have atoned for that by acquiring players of the quality of Surender Nada, Jang Kun Lee and Hadi Oshtorak at the auctions. While Nada was ruled out of the season even before it began, which was a huge blow for the side, they had quality back-up in the form of Jaideep, who was a key part of their title-winning team in season five.
Pardeep Narwal performed to his usual high standards but the team's defence was perennially in disarray and their poor utilization of their foreign players meant that they missed out on the playoffs despite a late-season surge by Pardeep.
5. Pawan Kumar Sehrawat scoring 39 points in a match
When defending champions Bengaluru faced Haryana Steelers for the first time this season, they lost 33-30. When they faced them a second time round, no one could have predicted what unfolded.
Season six MVP Sehrawat surpassed Bengaluru's total tally from the previous match all by himself as he notched an outrageous 39 points, three more than Haryana, who lost the match 36-59.
It has often been said that Sehrawat has been a one-man show for Bengaluru but there was no more emphatic proof of that than this. Along the way, Sehrawat also broke Pardeep's record of scoring most points in a single match (34).
6. No mercy for big names
This season of the PKL saw a brand of kabaddi that was faster than ever before and it meant players who have slowed down with age or have a predictable set of skills were consigned to the bench.
Unlike previous seasons, where coaches would be mindful of benching big names until it was too late, season seven saw most coaches pull the plug early as players as celebrated and feted as Ajay Thakur, Nitin Tomar, Rishank Devadiga, Manjeet Chillar, Abozar Mighani, Mohit Chillar and Jang Kun Lee were cast aside much before their teams were out of contention for the playoffs.
7. Jaipur's month-long winless streak
Jaipur Pink Panthers and Dabang Delhi KC jousted for the top spot on the points table for the entirety of the first month of the league as Jaipur won seven of their first nine matches, seemingly looking like a certainty for the playoffs.
What happened next cost them a playoffs spot. They won only two of their remaining 13 matches but the most surprising bit of it was their month-long streak between August 24 and September 25, where they remained winless in nine matches, which ultimately cost them a playoffs spot.