PKL 8: Pardeep Narwal inspires UP Yoddha past Puneri Paltan and into semifinals

Pardeep Narwal powers past the Paltan defence. PKL

The rough start

Pardeep Narwal, eighth highest scorer in a PKL season. Now, that's not a sentence that anyone who knows Kabaddi, and Narwal, would have expected to read, ever. But at the end of the league stages of PKL 8, that's what it was - the all-time highest scorer in PKL history (by a distance) had scored 'just' 166 points in 22 matches. He was a good 108 (!) points behind the season's leader, Pawan Kumar Sehrawat. In fact, he had 17 less points than his teammate Surender Gill, who had played one game less.

UP Yoddha had paid a record INR 1.65 crores to prise Pardeep from three-time champions Patna Pirates, and he wasn't even their main raider. Yoddha had qualified for the playoffs in third, largely thanks to Surender and their impeccable defence. A team effort from a unit that had purpose-bought a superstar to carry them to greater heights, and he had been quiet.

If you had followed the league stage, you'd have been forgiven for writing Pardeep off, for forgetting just what that man is capable of. It would have been understandable 16 minutes into Yoddha's eliminator against Puneri Paltan too. Paltan, a young unit built on the 'whole is greater than the sum of its part' philosophy, had powered to a 8-1 lead before being pegged back 12-12. In all that chaos, Pardeep had scored one point.

The moment of magic

Then, it happened. Great athletes often have some moments, times when you just stand back, let your jaw drop and go "How did they..."

Pardeep, on a raid, slipped in Pune's right corner, and went down to one knee. Sumit, so exceptional all season, went for it. If this had been the Pardeep of the league stage, that would have been it. That's what everyone expected - including the entirety of the Pune team who converged on the Yoddha raider. Pardeep, though, twisted out of Sumit's grip, before the force of the Paltan numbers pushed him wide. Another unsuccessful twist, and he had fallen on his back, just in-bounds. In that position he tried to get his left hand over the bodies in orange and to the line, but it was seized mid-air and pulled back. Then, suddenly, a left hand slipped out, touched the line, before a fingernail crossed it. Somehow, he had made it back. And he had got five points with him.

When he did this, there were 23 minutes and 17 seconds left in the match. But it was over. The King had reminded everyone, himself included, just why he held the crown. That singular moment, four seconds in forty frenetic minutes, had decided the result.

The return of the King

The Paltan, inexperience showing, stumbled and fumbled everytime Pardeep stepped into their court. On one raid, he extended his arm mid-dubki to make two points, three. In another, he simply bullied his way past three simultaneous tackles. There was nothing the Paltan could do, as Yoddha eased to a comfortable 42-31 win.

Pardeep got 18 points, maintaining his faintly ridiculous strike rate at the business end of the PKL (18.4 points average in 8 playoff games). And he had eased off by final stages of the second half, a champion who knew he didn't need to exert himself anymore. At the end he allowed himself a smile, his typical gentle smile, one that should send a shiver down anyone else who has eyes on the trophy. Pardeep Narwal's back, and how.

P.S. Up next, his home for 7 seasons - Patna Pirates - in the semifinals. Narratives don't come better written.