PKL 9: Unheralded, unplanned for -- how Sahul and Ajith tied the Bengaluru Bulls in knots

Ajith Kumar starred for Jaipur Pink Panthers vs Bengaluru Bulls in the semifinals of PKL 9. PKL

Its 20 minutes after the first semifinal of this year's Pro Kabaddi League. Sahul Kumar, who lifted, threw and body-slammed Bengaluru Bulls' raiders a short while ago, is reduced to a ball of nerves. Turns out, mics and cameras give him the jitters.

Sahul, Jaipur Pink Panthers' right corner, had put up one of the best defensive displays of PKL 9 -- with 10 tackle points in the biggest match of the season yet. His fine show ensured Jaipur Pink Panthers returned to the title clash after six long years.

But the mustachioed defender struggles to find his voice at the post-game press conference. He mumbles a few words: "The coach trained me very well. He told me they had good raiders but also told me to not hold back and to go for my tackles."

He went for his tackles alright, erring in just four of his 14 attempts. Bharat Hooda and Vikash Kandola, Bengaluru Bulls' defence, were flattened on the mat right away. Vikash was trapped in a back hold within 18 seconds. Right from the get-go, Sahul was on song, and there was no way past him.

He'd established himself as the Panthers' man of the moment, and was so dominating that Ankush, the side's lead defender, didn't have a single point until the 15th minute. Sahul jumped from the right corner to left cover position when his team was down to five men and won tackle points there too. He was everywhere and the Bulls raiders could go nowhere.

Two moments highlighted Sahul's brilliance: (i) Vikash, PKL9's second-most expensive player, began his raid from the left side of the mat and darted towards Sahul in the right corner...only to be undone by an ankle hold inside five seconds. And (ii) when Sahul flung Sachin Narwal in the air to pick up his 10th tackle point.

For the uninitiated, a High5 is when a defender bags five tackle points. It's the basic benchmark of a good game for a defender. Sahul, on Thursday, had twice that. He had just three tackle points less than the entire Bulls' defence.

It wasn't just Sahul who rose to the occasion - Ajith Kumar, who has performed in patches all season, took it upon himself to bring home the raid points. He claimed a massive Super Raid that got rid of Ponparthiban Subramanian, Aman and Vikash Kandola to power the Panthers to a 9-6 lead.

He had a chance to inflict an All Out in the very next raid but was trapped by Neeraj Narwal. He trudged back and slammed his fist on the bench in frustration. But it didn't matter...the Bulls' defence had nothing on him.

So much so that Bengaluru Bulls' coach Randhir Sehrawat said in the post-match conference that they didn't have a plan to contain Ajith. He wasn't even considered a threat.

"Our strategy was based on Arjun's game. Ajith scored just two points [he scored three] in the first game against us in the league stage. I felt he won't cause trouble and that we would win if we kept Arjun in check," Sehrawat said.

Ajith went after every single defender, sending each of them to the mat, before bringing up his Super 10 with a running hand touch on Sachin.

It was just his third Super 10 of the season, but it came on a day when it mattered the most. Arjun Deshwal, PKL 9's best raider, found it hard to get going and Ajith took over the raiding responsibilities. It isn't very often that Arjun is overshadowed by a raider, but he was more than happy to cheer on Ajith on Thursday evening.

Two youngsters. Two unheralded stars. And with them comes a shot at a second title for the Jaipur Pink Panthers.