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PKL 9 final preview: Where will Jaipur Pink Panthers vs Puneri Paltan be won?

PKL

Jaipur Pink Panthers and Puneri Paltan, the top two teams on the points table, will face off in the Pro Kabaddi League season 9 final on Saturday.

First-season winners vs first-time finalists. Best defence vs the youngest raiding unit. Who will take home the trophy? Here's all you need to know about the PKL9 final.

How did they get here?

Jaipur Pink Panthers are back in the finals after six years. They were the best team in the league stages, topped the table, and beat Bengaluru Bulls on Thursday to ease into the summit clash. Oh, and Jaipur won the title in 2014 at the same venue, the NSCI Dome in Mumbai.

Puneri Paltan have made it to their first-ever final and got here courtesy of a narrow win over the spunky Tamil Thalaivas.

What happened when they played each other this season?

2:0 to Puneri Paltan - they have beaten Jaipur Pink Panthers in both their league matches. The first was a 32-24 win in October and the second a 39-32 victory in November.

What are the team formations like?

Jaipur Pink Panthers are home to PKL 9's best defensive unit - 275 tackle points. Ankush Rathee, with 86 tackle points, is the team and League's top defender. The backline also features the likes of Sahul Kumar - who had a stunning outing in the semifinal - skipper Sunil Kumar and Iran's Reza Mirbagheri. But that's not all, Jaipur Pink Panthers also has a three-pronged raiding unit in Arjun Deshwal, Ajith Kumar and Rahul Chaudhari.

Puneri Paltan are a more raiding-oriented side, but that's not to say their defence is weak. Led by PKL's most successful defender Fazel Atrachali, their strength lies in their raiders Aslam Inamdar, Mohit Goyat, Akash Shinde and Pankaj Mohite. The defence has done decently well, but it isn't at the same level as the Panthers'.

Who are the key players?

Arjun: PKL 9's best raider. Extremely hard to stop (unless a certain Ajith overshadows him). Can change a game in a handful of raids.

Ankush: An absolute livewire. Will throw himself at the raider when he's convinced of the tackle. He can fare well against Puneri Paltan's not-so-muscular raider (barring Aslam).

Akash: Has been Puneri Paltan's cheat code this season. He's pulled the side out of many a mess and will be expected to shoulder the raiding duties.

Fazel: Puneri Paltan's leader and best defender. Has only one point against the Panthers this season and would love to change that. His strategies and game sense are priceless.

Any fresh faces who could pull off a surprise?

Sahul and Ajith for Jaipur Pink Panthers. Sahul struck gold with 10 tackle points while Ajith starred with a Super 10 in the semifinals.

Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh for Puneri Paltan. The Iranian all-rounder is a big-match player - he scored six crucial points against Tamil Thalaivas on Thursday. He can raid, defend and is the "best second man" as per Fazel. Oh and he single-handedly won the season seven final for Bengal Warriors. Proper clutch-situation player.

Any injury concerns?

Two very big ones for Puneri Paltan - Aslam and Mohit. The raiding duo have missed a large majority of the closing stages due to injury and even sat out Thursday's semifinals. Akash and Pankaj have stepped up in their absence, but coach BC Ramesh will hope his two top raiders can make a comeback on Saturday.

Where will the game be won?

In defence. Jaipur Pink Panthers don't have a lot to worry about because their defence is watertight. The trio of Sahul, Ankush and Reza will be high on confidence after collectively scoring 20 tackle points in the semis. For Puneri Paltan, however, the defence will need to step up. Especially considering Aslam and Mohit may not be available for selection.

The PKL9 final starts at 8.00 PM on Saturday, December 17 and will be available on Star Sports Network and Disney+ Hotstar.