PKL notebook: Swift rescheduling saves the League

Whether it was UP Yoddha raider Surender Gill’s astounding 21-point show against Puneri Paltan or Pawan Sehrawat bulldozing his way past defenders, here are some of the key talking points from the fortnight.

Promising youngster: UP Yoddha’s Surender Gill attempts a raid against Puneri Paltan. The 23-year-old raider has been one of the finds of the season.   -  Special Arrnagement

The Pro Kabaddi League, India’s first indoor sporting league to resume since the coronavirus pandemic, has had its brush with the wretched virus. Two teams, Patna Pirates and Gujarat Giants, reported cases and it appeared that the league might have to call off a few games like the Indian Super League, which is being played in Goa, had to.

However, the organisers did a swift rescheduling of the games and reduced the number of matches to arrest any chances of a further spread of the virus. Unperturbed, the 10 remaining teams continued to put up stirring displays on the mat. Whether it was UP Yoddha raider Surender Gill’s astounding 21-point show against Puneri Paltan or Pawan Sehrawat bulldozing his way past defenders, here are some of the key talking points from the fortnight.

Youngsters continue to dominate

This season has well and truly put the light on the importance of recruiting youngsters. Haryana Steelers’ 19-year-old Jaideep Dahiya, making his debut this season, has been the pick among the defenders with a joint league-high of 49 tackle points, while Arjun Deshwal has stepped up for the Jaipur Pink Panthers. The 23-year-old raider has gathered 152 raid points in 13 games, the third-most in the league. And then there is Surender Gill, who has overshadowed Pardeep Narwal in UP Yoddha. The 23-year-old raider has been one of the finds of the season and has a league-best average of 9.15 raid points per game.

UP Yoddha has scored the second-most raid points after 14 games — 307 — and Surender has bagged 127 of those.

Tamil Thalaivas, Telugu Titans struggle

Tamil Thalaivas is winless in five games and the last result was a deflating 24-52 loss to Patna Pirates. The side coached by J. Udayakumar has struggled to close out games this season and that has proved to be its Achilles Heel. Despite having some of the league’s finest defenders in Sagar and captain Surjeet Singh and an able raiding department, the side has lacked the goods in crunch situations.

The Thalaivas have played out six draws and should have comfortably won at least three of those games.

Telugu Titans has been glued to the bottom of the table for a long while now. Ace raider Siddharth Desai has missed 11 of the 14 games the team has played due to a wrist injury, while captain Rohit Kumar has made little to no impact. The youngsters, in the absence of a senior leader, have struggled for large parts. The likes of Rajnish and Ankit Beniwal have shown promise, but the Titans appear to be a lost cause now, with just one win in 14 attempts.

The lobby rule continues to cause controversy

One rule that has generated plenty of discussions across the seasons has been the lobby rule. For the uninitiated, the lobbies are the strips on either side of the mat that are activated when the raider gets a touch on a defender. The rule states that a raider cannot enter the lobby before scoring a touch point and if he does so then he will be eliminated.

Lobby rule: Bengal Warriors all-rounder Mohammad Nabibakhsh escapes the Jaipur Pink Panthers defence. In the match against Bengaluru Bulls, Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh entered the lobby without making a touch on a Bulls player and the entire Bulls roster of seven players entered the lobby in a bid to tackle him. The Warriors were awarded eight points (a point for each defender eliminated and a point for the All Out) and won the game 40-39. Raiders have actively begun using this loophole that has left fans and pundits divided over the ethics of employing this tactic.   -  Special Arrangement

 

However, the rule also states that a defender will be deemed out of bounds if he enters the lobby without the raider initiating a touch. In such a scenario, the raider will be eliminated and so will the defenders who follow him.

Bengal Warriors trumped Bengaluru Bulls courtesy of this rule as Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh entered the lobby without making a touch on a Bulls player and the entire Bulls roster of seven players entered the lobby in a bid to tackle him.

The Warriors were awarded eight points (a point for each defender eliminated and a point for the All Out) and won the game 40-39. Raiders have actively begun using this loophole that has left fans and pundits divided over the ethics of employing this tactic.

The jury is still out on whether this rule, the subject of multiple match-deciding raids, should be amended going ahead.

Swift rescheduling saves the League

While the virus managed to breach the bio-bubble in Bengaluru, the organisers’ swift actions avoided an outbreak.

Despite all the 12 teams sharing the same hotel, training spaces and dining area, albeit at different time slots, there was no further spread of the virus as the infected teams were isolated effectively. “There was no need for us to panic as the cases were contained immediately. We were able to go about and continue our training sessions,” said one team official.

Patna Pirates coach Ram Mehar Singh, whose team had numerous cases and came back from a 10-day break to demolish Tamil Thalaivas, said, “The organisers guided us really well. They shared COVID guidelines with respect to how to maintain social distancing, how we should go to eat in a staggered manner, how it was important for us to stay in the room, how to conduct team meetings and how to maintain the hygiene system.

“They met all our requirements in the last 10 days (when the team was in quarantine) and guided us on how to handle the situation. Everyone has recovered now and things are functioning in a smooth manner. Half the season has gone smoothly and I hope it continues to play out the same way.”

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