86 points in 22 games, with a score difference of 120. 16 wins, 5 losses, 1 tie. First in the league stage by a record margin. Patna Pirates absolutely bossed PKL 8, but just how did they do it?
First, the consistency. PKL 8 had a gap of two years from PKL 7, and players were understandably rusty at the start. COVID-19 then swept through the bio-bubble and some major rescheduling had to be done. Teams all over struggled for consistency, which lent itself to a nail biting finish where the six playoff places were decided in the final two days. Well, five. The Pirates qualified with room to spare - and they did it because they were the only team that played with any kind of consistency. The numbers in that opening line should show you just what that translated to.
In fact, no one had ever won the league in its previous seven iterations with a bigger margin (11).
And they did all this without the biggest name in Indian kabaddi - Pardeep Narwal, who had called Patna home for seven years, had been bought for a record shattering price by UP Yoddha in the auction.
No superstars? No problem. Let's flip tradition
At the end of the league stage, the Pirates didn't have a single raider in the top 10. Sachin, their best raider came in 13th with 157 points, a cool 129 behind leader Pawan Kumar Sehrawat. Their next best raider, Prasanth Kumar Rai came in 21st, with 91.
Remember, Patna are the most successful franchise in the league's short history. All three times they won, they were powered to the title by the record-breaking brilliance of Pardeep. This, what they did this season, is not something the team is used to. In fact, it's not something the league is used to.
Only twice before has a team qualified for the playoffs without having a raider in the top 10 for that season. (Season 6, UP Yoddha and Season 5, Haryana Steelers - when PKL tried their two groups format). Both teams barely scraped through. Patna finished top, qualifying even before scenarios started being drawn up.
In PKL, attacks win you games, and they win you championships. The Pirates, though, flipped that in the league stages.
They had the defender with the most successful tackles this season (Mohammadreza Chiyaneh, 78) and the tenth (Neeraj Kumar, 50). These were mostly regular one-point-a-tackle ones - the only Pirates player in the top 10 for super tackles was Sajin C, with 5. Chiyaneh was 17th with 3. This is important because it shows they rarely let games get to a stage where they needed to make the super tackle to make the difference. That's what proper defenses do.
Oh, and just to underline the 'everyone-does-everything' philosophy of the Pirates this season, Sajin and Chiyaneh are both all-rounders.
Risk-averse tactics get you nowhere
So a great defence translates to a safety-first team, right? Au contraire. As Jonathan Selvaraj points out in this piece on the record number of ties this season, the Pirates were one of the first to realise that going for the win was much better than playing for the tie. Which is why they had just one tie (lowest, along with Puneri Paltan) and a score difference that was a frankly ridiculous - 67 more than the next best. Sixty seven!
Indeed, the Pirates were not only proper good value for the league stage win, they were also a fun, fun watch.