The three-day Pro Kabaddi League season 8 (PKL 8) auction in Mumbai from August 29-31 saw kabaddi back in the spotlight after almost two years. While Pardeep Narwal fetching the biggest bid in the history of PKL came as no surprise, a few moves during the auction were quite puzzling.
Surjeet Singh being the most expensive defender
Having won the least tackle points as a team last season, it was clear that Tamil Thalaivas needed to rebuild their defence from scratch. They were also last on the list of teams with most average tackle points per match. However, their pick to lead their defence seems overly optimistic.
At 31, Surjeet Singh is among the most experienced defenders in the PKL, but his performances over the last two seasons saw a steady dip. Having been a part of the World Cup-winning Indian team in 2016, Surjeet peaked in season five of the PKL, where he was the second-highest scoring defender in the league.
He only finished tied-14th and 7th respectively on that same list in season six and seven respectively with tackle strike rates of 42% and 51%, respectively.
While Surjeet is among the top dozen or so defenders in the league, him finishing as the most expensive defender over younger and more successful defenders was a big surprise.
Jaipur Pink Panthers retaining Sandeep Kumar Dhull and Deepak Niwas Hooda
The documentary Sons of the Soil: Jaipur Pink Panthers that came out last year provided a peek into why the team failed to deliver yet in season 7 despite boasting plenty of star quality.
Deepak Niwas Hooda might be the current Indian captain and may have inspired a couple of teams to the playoffs in the past, but he lacked support from his teammates and coach Srinivas Reddy last season. The infighting and constant bickering within the team was a constant feature in the documentary.
Two of the players who seemed to rarely get along with Deepak were defender Amit Hooda and Sandeep Kumar Dhull. Having chosen to retain Amit before the auction and let go of Deepak, it seemed like Panthers wanted to build their team around Amit and young Nitin Rawal, who showed plenty of promise in season 7. Dhull was one of the best defenders in season 7, so it made sense for the team to use a final bid match card for him to retain him. However, they also used a final bid match card for Deepak and unless the equations between these players have changed dramatically, Panthers might be in for a season of disappointment yet again.
Vishal Mane and Mohit Chhillar going unsold
While well over a 100 players have appeared in a PKL final, no one has been there as often as Vishal Mane. He might never be among the defenders with the most points or the most accolades but Mane has made the PKL final five times and was a key part of each of those teams.
Even last season, he was a key part of losing finalists Dabang Delhi KC. In the final, where Delhi's experienced players cracked under pressure and kept losing their cool, Mane seemed to keep his composure and kept encouraging the young Naveen Kumar and Vijay Kumar Malik to express themselves. With his big match experience and leadership skills, Mane could have been a valuable addition to teams lacking in experienced defenders.
Mohit was one of the stars of India's triumphant 2016 World Cup run and his partnership with Surender Nada was easily the best in the country. That form was rewarded as he fetched the highest bid for any player at the season 4 auction. He was also among the top four defenders in terms of points scored in seasons 2, 3 and 4. His performances did slip over the last three seasons but at 28, Mohit is not lacking in fitness and with the PKL having a particularly long and grueling season, he could have been a great option to bring off the bench as the season progressed.
Patna Pirates buying just five specialist defenders after letting go of Pardeep
The Pirates are the most successful team in the history of the league but having failed to make the playoffs in the last two seasons, they made the decision to release Pardeep Narwal even though their defence has historically been their main problem.
While they did a decent job in signing quality raiders -- a good, young lead raider in Sachin and experienced back-ups in Jangkun Lee, Monu Goyat and Prashanth Kumar Rai -- they picked only four specialist defenders at the auction after choosing to retain just one defender in Neeraj Kumar.
The fact that most teams have three or four specialist defenders in their starting seven means that Pirates will be in serious trouble in case of injuries or poor form as they won't have reinforcement on the bench and might have to play imbalanced teams with more raiders than defenders in the starting seven.
Surender Nada, Rishank Devadiga and Monu Goyat going at base price
The categories that players were classified in seemed to be questionable as proven performers like Surender Nada, Monu Goyat, Nitin Tomar, Ajay Thakur, Sandeep Narwal and Rishank Devadiga were placed in Category B, while Surender Singh was placed in category A.
As expected, Tomar, Thakur and Sandeep got significantly higher bids than their base price, but was puzzling to see Nada, Goyat and Devadiga go at their base price, with Goyat and Devadiga even going unsold when their names first came up for bidding.
Nada was the most successful defender in season 5 and has missed the last two seasons with an injury in his left hand but with defenders of his quality being scarce in the PKL, he would have been expected to be among the most in demand defenders this season too.
Goyat and Devadiga received big bids in season 6 and 7 after being among the top 10 raiders in season 5, with Goyat being the most expensive player in season 6 and Devadiga also fetching north of 1 Crore that season. They were in the top 20 raiders in season 6 too but suffered a slump in season 7 as both of them finished outside the top 20 when it came to raiders with the most points.
However, Goyat's numbers also had a fair bit to do with lack of opportunity as he only attempted 192 raids in season 7, significantly lower than seasons 5 (365) and 6 (301). He also missed a few matches owing to injury. Hence, his drop in performance could have been a combination of the pressure arising out of a big price tag as well as the impact of the injury.