The Pro Kabaddi League Season 9 playoffs begin on Tuesday at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai, and there are some fascinating storylines to follow in each of the six teams that have qualified for the business end of the season.
In Puneri Paltan and UP Yoddhas, there are two teams who have never won the competition before, despite making the playoffs. Tamil Thalaivas are making the playoffs for the very first time while Jaipur Pink Panthers, Bengaluru Bulls and defending champions Dabang Delhi will be looking to join Patna Pirates as multiple winners of PKL.
Here's your guide to the playoffs and each of the six team's chances.
What is this year's format?
Having finished first and second in the regular season, Jaipur Pink Panthers and Puneri Paltan are through to the semifinal directly, where they await the winners of the eliminators.
The eliminators will see Bengaluru Bulls face Dabang Delhi for the chance to meet Jaipur in the semifinal, while Puneri Paltan await the winners of the clash between Tamil Thalaivas and UP Yoddhas.
When are the playoffs?
Both eliminators will take place on Tuesday, December 13, followed by the semifinals on Thursday, December 15. The final is on Saturday, December 17.
What are each team's chances?
Jaipur Pink Panthers
Matches: 22 | Points: 82 | Score Difference: 174 | Position: 1
Prediction: Will make the final
Jaipur finished top of the PKL 9 standings, amassing 82 points from their 22 games, with a whopping score difference of 174. They confirmed their spot in the playoffs with more than a week to go, but kept their foot on the pedal, until a run of victories was stopped by a tie against Gujarat Giants in their last match.
They also have the best raider and one of the best defenders of the league stages. Arjun Deshwal has gone from strength to strength to score 286 raid points this season, while their left corner Ankush has been a revelation, with 77 successful tackles
Jaipur's 254 tackle points in the league stage was the highest of PKL 9. That combination of a strong defence led by Ankush and Sunil Kumar, and the mercurial raiding of Deshwal means that they go into the playoffs as strong favourites.
Matches: 22 | Points: 80 | Score Difference: 66 | Position: 2
Prediction: Will make the final
Puneri Paltan are a steady side who have been consistent all season, even if at times they haven't been spectacular. They are seventh in the tackle points standings, and fifth for raid points, but they are a side who know how to win games, as evidenced by their 14 wins during the league phase.
Their captain Fazel Atrachali is a seasoned campaigner, having won the trophy with both U Mumba and Patna Pirates before. That is their biggest trump card heading into the playoffs.
Their young raiding combination of Aslam Inamdar and Mohit Goyat have also had good seasons.
In crunch moments, this young side could come under pressure, but in Atrachali they have a captain who is capable of taking the team through to excellence with him.
Matches: 22 | Points: 74 | Score Difference: 39 | Position: 3
Prediction: Loss to Jaipur Pink Panthers in the semifinal
In the first season of the post-Pawan Sehrawat era, Bengaluru Bulls have exceeded some expectations by finishing third in the league phase.
Vikas Khandola, their big-money purchase in the auction, has struggled, but the Bulls have found a new raiding star in Bharat, whose 257 raid points so far is only bettered by Deshwal. Their left corner Saurabh Nandal has also been outstanding, amassing the third-most tackle points in PKL 9, behind Mohammedreza Shadloui and Ankush.
However, a win in the eliminator will pit the Bulls against the Jaipur juggernaut, which doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon.
Matches: 22 | Points: 71 | Score Difference: 42 | Position: 4
Prediction: Loss to Puneri Paltan in the semifinal
The big story for UP Yoddhas this season has been the re-emergence of Pardeep Narwal. The PKL's greatest-ever raider has once again set the stage on fire after a lean couple of seasons, scoring 208 raid points.
Rohit Tomar and Surender Gill have both provided perfect foils for Pardeep in the raiding department, but their defence has been a concern.
Even if their raiding department can get the better of Tamil Thalaivas in the eliminator, a semifinal against Aslam and Mohit could prove a tough ask for the Yoddhas, who will have to depend on their raiders having a brilliant day against a defence led by Atrachali.
Matches: 22 | Points: 66 | Score Difference: 5 | Position: 5
Prediction: Loss to UP Yoddhas in the eliminator
Whatever Tamil Thalaivas do from here, PKL9 is a season that the franchise will never forget. They saw it start in the worst possible way with Pawan Sehrawat's season-ending knee injury. Poor results meant the franchise parted ways with J Udayakumar, and then appointed Ashan Kumar, who has worked a miracle.
Results instantly improved and they were in contention for a playoff spot, but then were dealt another blow with defender Sagar Rathee also suffering a knee injury that ruled him out of the rest of the season.
But they've found stars, and none more so than Narendar Hoshiyar, who took on the rather unenviable task of filling Sehrawat's shoes. Ajinkya Pawar conjured up some magic, like that eight-point raid against Telugu Titans, which he followed with another seven-point raid against the same opposition.
However, an eliminator against the Pardeep Narwal of 2022 without the might of Sagar in defence might prove to be too much for even the resilient Thalaivas.
Matches: 22 | Points: 63 | Score Difference: 17 | Position: 6
Prediction: Loss to Bengaluru Bulls in the eliminator
The defending champions began their season on fire then lost their way terribly before recovering to become the last team to qualify for the playoffs.
Naveen Kumar has been influential as ever for Dabang Delhi, with support in the raiding department from Ashu Malik and Manjeet.
The eliminator against the Bulls is likely to be decided on whether the Delhi defence can restrict Bharat. Even though Delhi win a large volume of tackles - they have the second most tackle points in PKL 9 - only Telugu Titans and Gujarat Giants had a worse successful tackle percentage. Against a raider like Bharat mistakes can cost you dear, and that could be Delhi's Achilles' heel.
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