PKL: U Mumba, Telugu Titans to kick things off

Barely five months since U Mumba lifted the trophy of the Pro Kabaddi’s second edition, the Mumbai outfit will begin its title defence with the third edition of the Star Sports-sponsored league set to begin in Visakhapatnam on Saturday.

Despite the presence of players from Poland and Kenya besides the sub-continental regulars, it is certain that the Indian stars will continue to be the X-factors over the next five weeks.   -  PTI

Barely five months since U Mumba lifted the trophy of the Pro Kabaddi’s second edition, the Mumbai outfit will begin its title defence with the third edition of the Star Sports-sponsored league set to begin in Visakhapatnam on Saturday.

U Mumba, empowered with the addition of Rakesh Kumar from Patna Pirates, will kick the tournament off by facing hosts Telugu Titans in the season-opener. While the kabaddi fraternity is all excited for the return of ProKabaddi, it remains to be seen if the organisers’ decision to host two editions every year continues to reap rewards.

The simplified version of the traditional sport has been a hit among spectators, especially on television. It has paid a huge role in the promoters deciding to optimise it. However, it has created murmurs among players that two seasons every year may result in players trying to avoid injuries. Rakesh and Anup Kumar, the U Mumba captain, both expressed their reservations about the move a couple of month ago.

Not a concern

However, experts have no doubts that two seasons will neither be a hindrance for players nor fans.

“It cannot be a concern for players at all,” Gautami Raut-Aroskar, former kabaddi player who is now a commentator, told Sportstar from Visakhapatnam. “The national calendar is anyway so packed that had it not been for ProKabaddi, they would have been playing in some other ranking or invitational tournament. At least with ProKabaddi, they will continue to be in the limelight.”

Raut-Aroskar, a Shiv Chhatrapati Award recipient – the highest honour for a sportsperson in Maharashtra, was confident the spectators will revel in more live kabaddi action.

“Trust me, people just love watching kabaddi, everywhere in India,” she said. “Wherever we play a kabaddi tournament, the stadium is packed to capacity. ProKabaddi has taken the entertainment quotient a notch up, so the audience is surely in a win-win situation.”

Balanced teams

What excited Raut-Aroskar most about the season ahead is not the quick return. It is stiffer competition. “After the first two seasons, all the teams have realised the strategies perfectly. All chinks in the armour have been taken care of. I am sure all the matches will be equally competitive and exciting,” she said.

U Mumba, who topped the league standings before crowning the glory in August, will be hoping to continue in the same vein. The other team from the state, Puneri Paltan, will be desperately seeking a turnaround in its fortunes.

After finishing at the bottom of the pile in each of the two editions, Puneri Paltan has roped in Manjeet Chillar as captain to aid coach Ashok Shinde’s strategies as coach.

Besides the cream of Indian players, the ProKabaddi’s third edition, which will conclude in Delhi on March 6, will also see 26 international players from 11 nations hoping to showcase their skills on the big stage. Despite the presence of players from Poland and Kenya besides the sub-continental regulars, it is certain that the Indian stars will continue to be the X-factors over the next five weeks.

Women’s league next?

If the two-editions-a-year formula works, the next obvious step for Pro Kabaddi is to organise a women’s league as well. In fact, a proposal is already under consideration to kick off the women’s league.

Ask Raut-Aroskar about the need for a women’s league and she is all smiles. “Initially I was sceptical if women can match the thrills and frills men can offer. However, with the rule changes, women showed in the recent Maha-Kabaddi (a franchise-based kabaddi league in Maharashtra) they have also raised their standards and enthralled the audience. I hope it becomes a reality soon,” she concluded.