Pro Kabaddi enters business end

U Mumba will take on Bengal Warriors in the first semi-final while the other semi-final would be played between Puneri Paltan and Patna Pirates.

Defending champion U Mumba will he hoping to reach its third consecutive final.   -  PTI

With the third edition of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) entering its business end, table-topper U Mumba will hope to continue its impressive run in the tournament.

The defending champion, and finalist in the inaugural edition, has reached the last four in every season and captain Anup Kumar admitted it would be an advantage ahead of the semi-finals on Friday. U Mumba will take on Bengal Warriors while the other semi-final would be played between Puneri Paltan and Patna Pirates.

“We have been very consistent so there would be pressure of expectations. Hopefully we will keep our record of reaching the title clash intact,” he said at a pre-match interaction here.

His opposite number, Nilesh Shinde, simply said, “Dekhte hain, close hoga, maza ayega (let’s see, it will be a close game, it will be fun). All teams are almost equal.”

The PKL is claimed to be the second highest-watched sporting league in the country behind the IPL and the success of the league is acknowledged by the players.

“I have won two Asian games gold and have been an international player for almost 12 years. But people have only now started recognising me,” Manpreet added.

Puneri Paltan captain and star raider Ajay Thakur, meanwhile, insisted that no single player was capable of winning a game on his own. “It’s a team game. If you see, last year, both the top defender and raider were from the Delhi side and still they did not make the top four.”

“That is what we believe and that is what we aim to do tomorrow as well,” he said. Thakur was earlier with the Bangalore franchise which finished runner-up in the previous edition.

Asked about competition from other teams at the international level, the players admit the foreigners have benefited much more than the Indians from the PKL, unlike most other sporting leagues which have worked to the Indians’ advantage.

“Players from Iran and Korea here practice with us, see how we plan. Most of these countries have now begun requesting Indian coaches and the number of players in places like Iran has also increased. All of this has contributed to improving the standards of kabaddi in other countries,” Manpreet said.

Thakur, however, was confident of India’s dominance. “We train since childhood and we have some of the best coaches with us. We have regular camps.”

“We have huge ‘bench strength’ of thousands compared to a few hundred elsewhere. A bigger pool will always give India an advantage. It will take a lot of time for the rest to catch up,” he said.