PKL 8: Dabang Delhi's juggernaut rolls on as Naveen Kumar and Vijay put in career-best displays

Dabang Delhi K.C.’s Naveen Kumar showcases tremendous raiding skills against Bengal Warriors PKL

For the first five season of the PKL, Dabang Delhi KC were the team that every other team loved to face. They'd always be in a fight to avoid the wooden spoon and never got close to the playoffs.

In the last three seasons though, the team has been the most consistent outfit in the league. They qualified for the playoffs for the first time in their history in season 6 and topped the league phase last season. They've only played four matches this season but look set to finish near the top of the table again.

So what's changed in the last three seasons? The short answer to the question would be Naveen Kumar. However, such a massive turnaround can't be brought about by just one factor.

While Naveen has shone like a beacon, the captain-coach duo of Krishan Kumar Hooda and Joginder Singh Narwal have helped him flourish and used all their experience to build a formidable team.

Bengal Warriors have always been one of the better teams in the PKL. They make the playoffs more often than not and still enjoy playing Delhi, or at least used to before today. Delhi lost only 5 of the 25 matches they played last season. Two of those losses came against Bengal, including in the final, a match they entered as the favourites after Bengal's talisman Maninder Singh was ruled out with injury.

On Wednesday though, those ghosts from the past seemed to have been completely forgotten as Delhi notched their highest score of the season, thumping Bengal 52-35 in a lopsided match.

No more tears for Naveen

One of the defining images of last season's final was Naveen weeping inconsolably after the match. He had every reason to be heartbroken too, as in spite of him scoring 18 points, his team ended up losing 34-39 as the defence failed to win a single point in the second half.

In his stint in the PKL so far, Naveen has already shown that he has a great memory - he was in no mood to see a repeat of last year's final as he notched a Super 10 in just 11 minutes. He took each of the first six raids and got at least one touch point in each of them.

The results was emphatic at the end of those raids: Dabang Delhi KC 10-4 Bengal Warriors. Naveen had almost singlehandedly wiped out Bengal's strong starting seven as they suffered their first all out within the first seven minutes.

Model player Vijay finally breaks out of the shadows

If there's a player that most PKL coaches would want to clone or have as a prototype, it would be Vijay Kumar Malik. He can raid, he can defend and he also possesses some of the deftest and silkiest skills in the league.

He might not always get the headlines but he's always willing to do the dirty work. Vijay has come on in leaps and bounds since he first appeared for the Patna Pirates in their run to the title in season 5.

With Delhi choosing to rest/omit Ajay Thakur on Wednesday, Vijay had to back up Naveen in the raiding department and take on greater responsibility. He was the only Delhi player other than Naveen who could derive some satisfaction from his performance in last year's final and would have remembered how Delhi led 11-3 in that game too before crumbling in the second half.

He earned his first raid opportunity only in the eighth minute but showed some serious skill to pick up a Super 10 by the 28th minute in just 10 raid attempts. In fact, Delhi scored at least a point in each of their raids in the first half till the very last minute when Naveen was tackled for the first time.

Bengal capitalized, and inflicted an all out on Delhi, narrowing the deficit down from 17-34 to 23-35. Just when they seemed to be mounting a comeback, Vijay delivered yet again as his Super Raid consigned Sachin Vittala and Vijin Thangadurai to the bench and Bengal never found a way back.

Naveen Express finds the perfect balance

As Vijay picked up his second Super 10 in the PKL, Naveen tallied his best ever match haul in the PKL, finishing the match with as many as 24 points, extending his streak of successive Super 10s to 25 matches. The impact of that streak can be gauged from the fact that Delhi have lost only four of those 25 matches.

In the past, Naveen has often been content with picking up a point every raid and not being overtly greedy. But knowing fully well that Delhi was missing the services of Thakur and Bengal had more than one player capable of scoring with Super Raids, he looked to score in almost all his raids, reflected in only four of his 25 raids on the day being empty, most of which came towards the end of the match when Delhi were running down the clock.

The more staggering stat is that he's now only been tackled five times in four matches in over a 100 raid attempts. To put that into perspective, Maninder, who's the second most prolific player this season behind Naveen, was tackled four times just in today's match.

Naveen's quick feet and quicker thinking have helped Delhi extend their lead at the top of the table as their juggernaut merrily rolls on after overcoming their biggest challenge in the past few seasons.