Bengal Warriors etched its name in Pro Kabaddi League history as it lifted its maiden title on Saturday. Led by Iranian Mohammed Esmaeil Nabibakhsh, Warriors beat Dabang Delhi 39-34 to become PKL's fifth champion in seven seasons.
The odds seemingly favoured the Warriors ahead of the final as it was the the only side that Dabang Delhi could not beat in the PKL 2019 league stage. The Warriors, coached by BC Ramesh, however suffered a setback as Maninder Singh was ruled out of the final owing to a shoulder injury.
But that did not dent the Warriors' hopes as Nabibakhsh produced a stellar performance, and was aided by Sukesh Hegde and a watertight defence, as the side secured a stunning victory.
Here, we dissect how the Warriors got here and the side's success mantra
New season, new fortune
In the first four seasons, Bengal Warriors was a different side altogether. In three of the first four editions, the team finished sixth or below. In the inaugural season, Bengal finished seventh and during the 2016 June-July tournament, Bengal Warriors registered only three wins and finished at the bottom of the table. Naturally, this begs the question, what made this team a force to reckon with now?
A number of people and factors come to mind, the first one - coach B.C. Ramesh. With Bengal Warriors winning the PKL 2019 title, he picked up his second PKL title on the trot after having gone the distance with the Bengaluru Bulls last time.
Call it a coach's bias but Ramesh has always maintained that his team is one of the best all-round sides in the tournament's history. If anything, this win over Dabang Delhi set his faith in stone.
In a tournament that glorifies individual brilliance, Bengal Warriors cracked the most important formula of them all - that Kabaddi is a team sport and that one's squad needs to stand on the strength of its depth. Maninder sitting out the final was a point of concern for fans and pundits but with multiple raiding options at its disposal, Bengal Warriors was hardly bothered.
Why bench strength matters
However, one must acknowledge how crucial Maninder has been to Bengal Warriors' journey through this edition of the tournament. Towards the middle of PKL 2019 Bengal Warriors had picked up a reputation of pulling off outrageous comebacks, Maninder rallying his boys all through.
Case in point, earlier this season, Bengal Warriors managed to overcome a five-point deficit to beat U Mumba 32-30, with K. Prapanjan Maninder and Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh rising to the occassion.
Closer to the final, when Dabang Delhi faced Bengal Warriors in a league clash, the latter emerged victorious, not before Maninder picked up an injury to his shoulder which would eventually rule him out of the final. Dabang Delhi scored 13 points after Maninder got off the mat, a testament to the raider's impact on the game.
The Bengal Warriors skipper has had a fairly decent run this season. As a raider, he did not enjoy the kind of personal success that Naveen Kumar or Pawan Sehrawat enjoyed, but crucial 17-point hauls at points during the tournament tilted the match in the Bengal Warriors' favour, also underlining his vitality to the side's machinery. Maninder finished with 205 raid points in PKL 2019.
Bengal Warriors outfit let go of names like Ran Singh, erstwhile skipper Surjeet Singh and Jang Kun Lee ahead of the season and there was talk if the side could fill these gaps. In came the likes of Sukesh Hegde, Jeeva and all-rounder Nabibakhsh.
Jeeva was particularly lethal in the summit clash, switching between the right and left cover depending on where the opponent raider chose to place himself, coming in strong with those thigh holds and blocks. Baldev Singh and Rinku Narwal also came to the fore and towards the business end of the tournament, the gears of the Bengal Warriors defence were well-oiled and came good.
The weight of a price tag
Signed by the Warriors for a massive INR 77.75 lakh, the expectations from Iranian all-rounder Nabibakhsh were always going to border on unrealistic. He had a quiet start to the season, struggling to get going even if he had decent starts early on. Nabibakhsh ended PKL 2019 with 122 points, of which 92 were raid points.
Having come under fire early on in the tournament, stepping up as the player of the final was a perfect finish to a debut season for the Iranian, taking his team through as the stand-in captain for Maninder against an aggressive and eventually desperate Dabang Delhi outfit with a calm head and 10 points to show for it.
Consistency, composure and prioritising a team combination - the very basics of a sport of Kabaddi's intensity - has helped Bengal walk the long mile. The Warriors won't be complaining - they have a fat check, a trophy and a piece of history to show for it.