PKL S9 report card: Jaipur Pink Panthers, Puneri Paltan get A+; F for Telugu Titans


It's been an enthralling season of the Pro Kabaddi League. Jaipur Pink Panthers topped the PKL 9 standings at the end of the league stage and went on to win the title, while Puneri Paltan finished runners-up in their best season to date.

Jaipur Pink Panthers' win over Puneri Paltan didn't come off as a surprise, considering Puneri were without their two star raiders, but the big surprise of the season was Tamil Thalaivas' fairytale run that led them to a maiden semifinal appearance. Tamil Thalaivas' season got off to the most inauspicious start as they lost their captain Pawan Kumar Sehrawat, who they signed on for ₹ 2.26 core, within the opening 10 minutes. The season was always going to be an uphill battle from there on but Ashan Kumar's boys went the distance, while Dabang Delhi coach Krishan Kumar Hooda's men failed to deliver when it mattered.

After 137 matches played across four cities over a span of 10 weeks, we assess how each team fared in PKL 9, look at what made them tick (or didn't), and grade them (A+ being highest, F being lowest).

Bengal Warriors

Grade: C

Season summary: Bengal Warriors assembled a power-packed team peppered with some of the biggest names in Indian kabaddi. Newly appointed coach K. Baskaran and captain Maninder Singh had won PKL 1 and there was a real sense of hope for the Warriors. They got off to a decent start, scored a few massive wins and harboured playoff ambitions. But then came the catastrophic fall - they fizzled out embarrassingly with eight losses in their last 10 games.

Thumbs up: Maninder Singh, the skipper. Finished as the fifth-best raider with 238 raid points.

Maninder Singh: How PKL's strongest raider has become its most consistent

Thumbs down: Girish Maruti Ernak and Deepak Hooda. Girish was impeccable for the first half of the season and comfortably led the defensive charts, before returning to his error-strewn agonizing game. Deepak Hooda, the captain of the Indian team, made little to no impact. He scored 47 raid points. He had more when he debuted in 2014 - 87 raid points for Telugu Titans.

TL;DR: Did not meet expectations.

Bengaluru Bulls

Grade: A

Season summary: They had a point to prove this season after letting go of Pawan Kumar Sehrawat and they did well in that regard. The Bulls had the best raiding unit in PKL 9 [550 raid points] and also featured the third-best defence [254 tackle points]. They were notorious for their comeback wins and Bharat Hooda's incredible raiding.

Thumbs up: This was Bharat's first season as a lead raider and he stepped up in some style. He swung many a game in the Bulls' favour and was named PKL 9's best raider for his 279 raid points from 23 matches. He also scored the joint-highest Super Raids [11] and second-most Super 10s [16]. Saurabh Nandal also had a great season, finishing #3 on the list for tackle points [72].

Also a shoutout to their consistency: the Bulls reached the semifinal for the fourth successive time since winning the title in season six.

Thumbs down: The lackadaisical approach in the first half. The Bulls, especially the defence, were often complacent in the opening 20 minutes and that made their games unnecessarily close.

TL;DR: Lived up to expectations, but should have made it to the final. Bharat was incredible.

Dabang Delhi

Grade: C

Season summary: Sometimes good, sometimes just plain disappointing. The defending champions began with five wins on the trot and then lost eight [six continuously!] of their next 10 games. They managed to recover towards the end and just about scraped through to the playoffs. A few youngsters came through, but the pressure on this young team, mentally and physically, did not make for pleasant viewing.

Lightning quick Manjeet Sharma the latest in long line of fine Dabang Delhi raiders

Thumbs up: Naveen Kumar, 22, replaced Joginder Narwal, 40, as the captain. To his credit, Naveen managed his young team fairly well and ensured it didn't take a toll on his game. He picked up numerous niggles along the way but still wrapped up the season with 254 raid points - third-most in PKL 9.

Thumbs down: The lack of experienced players cost Dabang Delhi this time. They fielded a young squad that showed plenty of promise but lacked the direction and levelheaded-ness that it so needed. The team was filled with ageing superstars last season and riddled with fresh faces this time...it's time the team finds a balance.

Plus, coach Krishan Hooda's bashing of his players in press conferences wasn't probably very motivating.

TL;DR: Not the kind of season you'd expect from a team defending its title.

Gujarat Giants

Grade: C

Season summary: They came to life at the death and nearly, nearly pulled off a Houdini act to make it to the top six. Ram Meher Singh's men were patchy in their performances throughout the season and the multiple injuries only made it worse. Despite their main raider Rakesh Sungroya's injury, Gujarat Giants was the team with the highest successful raid percentage at 44.92% and averaged a league-high of 24.95 points per game. This, without a top-flight raider, was commendable.

Thumbs up: It was refreshing to see South Korean raider Dong Geon Lee get some quality game time towards the end. The fact that he captained the side for a few games was icing on the cake.

Thumbs down: While the raiding was excellent, the defending was shambolic. They got only 190 tackle points in 22 games. Even Telugu Titans, who won just two games, had more tackle points.

TL;DR: Made the race for the playoffs interesting with a late surge, but it was too little, too late to rescue their campaign.

Haryana Steelers

Grade: C

Season summary: They had all the components needed to make it to the playoffs but severely lacked consistency. Until the midway stage, they'd managed to win two successive games only once - which came in their first two games of PKL 9. They were better in the second half and culled their way towards the top half of the table but the loss to eventual champions Jaipur Pink Panthers hurt their chances of progressing.

Thumbs up: The young names delivered. Whether it was Manjeet and Meetu Sharma in raiding or Jaideep Dahiya in defence, they delivered.

Thumbs down: Joginder Narwal was named the captain, but he played only eight games out of 22. He spent two-thirds of the season on the bench but attended the press conferences as the team captain, even in games where he did not play, confusingly enough. Oh, and the foreign signings did not live up to their hype.

TL;DR: Good young squad, desperately needed consistency.

Jaipur Pink Panthers

Grade: A+

Season summary: Topped the standings at the end of the League stage, won the title a week later. As simple as that. The most commanding and well-rounded unit in PKL 9, Jaipur Pink Panthers flawlessly proved that consistency leads to success. They had the best defence in PKL with 290 tackle points and also scored the most points in the season - 956. The watertight defence was backed by a lethal raiding unit and the Panthers were a delight to watch. PKL 9's #1 raider and #1 defender were both from the Jaipur Pink Panthers.

Thumbs up: Arjun Deshwal was named PKL 9's MVP for his 296 raid points, while Ankush Rathee, making his debut this season, was adjudged the best defender for his 89 tackle points. It was also heartwarming to see Ajith Kumar step up in the latter stages, when Arjun was off-colour, and play match-winning roles in the semis and final.

Arjun Deshwal - Jaipur Pink Panthers' raider for all seasons

Thumbs down: There wasn't a lot to not like about this team, but maybe Rahul Chaudhari could have played a couple of minutes in the final considering he was going to win his first PKL title ever.

TL;DR: Class act, deserving champions.

Patna Pirates

Grade: D

Season summary: Missed last season's title by one point, were at no point close to the title this season. They got off to a poor start but found a rhythm with a seven-game unbeaten run in early November. But they began to crumble right as the business end of the tournament came around and ended up losing four of their must-win last five matches.

Thumbs up: Mohammadreza Shadloui's 16 tackle points were truly among the moments of the season. The Iranian struck eight Super Tackles and followed it up with two touch points and a bonus to finish with 19 points. That the Pirates went on to lose that match is a different story, but the Shadloui show was remarkable.

Thumbs down: They barely signed any new names and that made them a little predictable. And they severely under-utilized their Kenyan raider Daniel Odhiambo. He's been with the team for two seasons and has played a total of three games.

TL;DR: PKL's most successful team had no success in PKL 9.

Puneri Paltan

Grade: A+

Season summary: Fazel Atrachali was handed a young, inexperienced squad and he moulded them into a team of superstars. Puneri Paltan, with an average age of 22, were one of the most balanced teams in PKL 9 and were undoubtedly the best-captained team of the season.

How Fazel Atrachali's inspiring leadership helped Puneri Paltan seal spot in final

While the likes of Aslam Inamdar and Mohit Goyat continued to perform, what set this team apart was how they had endless options in each position. For example, Akash Shinde, Pankaj Mohite and Aditya Shinde stepped in when the need arose and swiftly got the job done. It further reinforced the fact that teams need to have a youth set up for a supply chain of promising young talent. Puneri Paltan's season had numerous hits and a few misses, the biggest miss being Aslam and Mohit missing the latter stages and the final due to injury.

Thumbs up: The team composition and Fazel's leadership were outstanding. Puneri Paltan's youth-first approach showed that's the way forward, while Fazel used all his wisdom to marshal his young Padawans. How Fazel led this team, by praising and patting them instead of yelling at them, had a strong impact on their approach to the game.

Thumbs down: Aslam and Mohit's injuries came as a massive blow to coach BC Ramesh. The raiding duo was a key part of Ramesh and Fazel's plans and not having them made all the difference in what was Puneri Paltan's first final.

TL;DR: A season like none other for them. They might have just won the title if not for Aslam and Mohit's injuries.

Tamil Thalaivas

Grade: A

Season summary: An injury to their captain inside the opening 10 minutes of their campaign. The head coach was sacked and replaced seven games into the season. The stand-in skipper also gets injured and is ruled out right around the playoffs. Tamil Thalaivas, in what can best be described as a fairytale season, earned their maiden ticket to the knockout stage. They were undefeated in seven of their last nine league-stage games before edging out UP Yoddhas in the most thrilling game of the season. They went down to Puneri Paltan in the semis but won hearts aplenty for their gritty show.

Thumbs up: Narender Kandola, overnight, became Tamil Thalaivas' lead raider after Pawan Sehrawat's injury and he revelled in the role. He racked up 243 raid points, which was a PKL record for the most raid points by a raider in his debut season. Narender was voted the debutant of the season. He flourished under coach Ashan Kumar, who guided Tamil Thalaivas in fine fashion.

Thumbs down: They struggled to close out games this season, letting go of their lead in the dying stages. They could have qualified for the playoffs far more comfortably if not for their bad habit of losing the plot in the final five minutes.

TL;DR: Defied all the odds. No one gave them a chance to go this far.

Telugu Titans

Grade: F

Season summary: Won two games, lost 20 and finished with a score difference of -245 points. They had a great squad on paper, but we saw none of that on the mat.

Thumbs up: The fact that they continued to fight despite having absolutely nothing going their way.

Thumbs down: Everything. Barring Siddharth Desai's brief good spell, Telugu Titans had nothing to cheer about.

TL;DR: Shambolic. Bottom-place finish for the second season in a row.

UP Yoddhas

Grade: B

Season summary: The expectations from a Pardeep Narwal team are always high. And the UP Yoddhas lived up to it by making it to the playoffs, but yet again failed to go beyond.

Thumbs up: Pardeep's resurgence in PKL 9 was great to see. He had a quiet season last time around but was much better this time after having lost a few extra kgs. The Dubki King went past the 1500 raid points milestone and finished with 220 raid points.

No sweets, milk or ghee: Pardeep Narwal's route to rediscover his mojo

Thumbs down: That bizarre Pardeep raid that led to the tie-breaker in the eliminator against Tamil Thalaivas. All Pardeep had to do was cross the baulk line and kill the clock but he went for a touch point instead and got caught out. Which then offered Tamil Thalaivas a way into the game, which they went on to win. A season-ending mistake from Pardeep.

TL;DR: Pardeep turned out to be both, their hero and villain.

U Mumba

Grade: C

Season summary: They had a foot and a half into the playoffs but then uncharacteristically collapsed to finish a lowly ninth on the table. U Mumba - sans any big names this season - enjoyed a fruitful season and were well set to compete in the knockouts at home in Mumbai before they lost the plot and four games in a row to crash out of the tournament. Their defence was their strength and nearly 43% of their tackles were successful in PKL 9. The Surinder Singh-led team had the fifth-best tackle points [246] and second-most Super Tackles [30].

Thumbs up: The defence was solid and Rinku Singh stepped up well to captain the side in Surinder's absence. Rinku finished as PKL 9's sixth-best defender with 59 tackle points.

Thumbs down: They need a proper raiding unit. They lacked a top-flight raider and banked solely on Guman Singh, who played his role but lacked an able secondary raider.

TL;DR: Hovered around the playoff spots, then went tumbling down.