Lights, camera, a(u)ction! The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), India's second-most-watched sporting league returns on Sunday as the player auctions get underway. The league, making a comeback after 20 months, is scheduled to begin in December.

This year's auction promises to be an exciting affair as some of the biggest names in the sport have been released into the auction pool. The likes of Pardeep Narwal, the league's leading scorer in seven seasons, the charismatic Siddharth Desai, national team captain Deepak Niwas Hooda and veteran raiders Rahul Chaudhari and Ajay Thakur will all go under the hammer.

Dubki King  Pardeep, a two-time PKL MVP, is largely touted to attract the highest bid in the history of the league. Monu Goyat's ₹1.51 crore move to Patna Pirates is the most expensive buy in the league so far. The team owners and players both predict a fiercely contested auction with the teams going "all-out" with their spendings. Patna Pirates owner Rajesh Shah says, "I’m truly excited that the PKL's season 8 is about to begin now with what promises to be a highly competitive player auction. Pro Kabaddi has been sorely missed by its fans and it’s great for Patna Pirates to be back in action. The teams will go all out and spending will be full purse."

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Patna Pirates, the three-time champion, can retain the services of Pardeep by using the Final Bid Match (FBM) rule, which allows teams to retain a maximum of two players by matching the final bid made for them.

Telugu Titans owner Sreeramaneni Srinivas doesn't rule out Siddharth's return to his team via the FBM. His team is comfortably placed and has ₹3.2 crore to spend at the auction. "We have the largest roster now and have already retained three players. We need only six more players to complete our roster and have a purse of ₹3.2 crore. We will build a balanced team and won't be a one-legged pony. We can add one strike raider to our team and then build the rest. It could be Siddharth since we have the FMB option. However, it will depend on how the auctions play out," he says.

Siddharth, who was bought by the Telugu Titans for a whopping ₹1.45 crore last season, is eager to better his performances this season. “I made a come back from a shoulder injury last season and had a shorter rehab than I would have liked, My start was poor but I got better as my shoulder recovered and I equalled my best career performance [he scored 220 points, one point shy of the 221 he secured for U Mumba in season six]. I am not nervous but excited since my performances have been good and I have big hopes from the auction. I look forward to doing bigger and better things this season around," he says. He will watch the action with his elder brother Suraj Desai, who teamed up with him at Telugu Titans last season.

Former captain of Bengaluru Bulls, Rohit Kumar says, "I feel everything will go well at the auction. I don't take a lot of tension. Whichever team signs me, or if the Bengaluru Bulls decide to retain me, I will always look forward to giving my best. If Bengaluru Bulls retain me, then nothing like it."

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- All eyes on Pardeep -  

Pawan Kumar Sehrawat, who was the leading scorer last season with 360 points, feels Pardeep is the name to look out for. "I feel Pardeep will attract a record-high bid. His nickname is 'Record-breaker' and he has been doing it on the mat for years and now I expect he will do the same in the auction too," he says.

Pardeep, on his part, can barely contain his excitement ahead of the auction. “ Mujhe bohot khushi ho rahi hai ki mai pehli bar aaya hun auctions mein. [This is the first time I am in the auction and I am thrilled about it. I can’t say what will happen, which team will pick me or if Patna Pirates will retain me, but I am very excited],” he says. 

“Every team should have a chance to sign me. Now I’m here [in the auction]. Whichever team wants me onboard can sign me on!” he adds.

- Tamil Thalaiva and UP Yoddha will be heavily involved - 

The likes of Tamil Thalaivas and UP Yodhha can be expected to be heavily involved and spend big at the auctions as neither team has retained any of its elite players. On the other hand, defending champion Bengal Warriors and season two winner U Mumba will have a curtailed purse as they have held on to most of their stars. Gujarat FortuneGiants, one of the most consistent teams in the league, will be looking to add firepower to its raiding department as it has held on to its dexterous defensive duo of Parvesh Bhainswal and Sunil Kumar. 

From muddy fields to air-conditioned indoor stadiums, the onset of the Pro Kabaddi League has given the sport a refreshing makeover. The league has thrust the players into the spotlight and given them the window of opportunity to pursue the sport as a career. Quite a few of these players, hailing from humble villages, have emerged as  crorepatis  as well. Come Monday, a couple more may join that elite list.