After 132 league games and two eliminators, four teams remain in the fight for the Pro Kabaddi League trophy. Jaipur Pink Panthers (champion of the inaugural edition) and Bengaluru Bulls (winner of season 6) clash in the first semifinal while two teams looking for their maiden title — Puneri Paltan and Tamil Thalaivas— lock horns in the second.
The semis promise to be closely contested with both pairs having balanced head-to-head PKL records. Jaipur and Pune were direct semifinal entrants by virtue of finishing as the top two teams in the league stage.
The Panthers have in their ranks the league’s best raider and second-best defender in Arjun Deshwal (286 raid points) and Ankush (81 tackle points). After a few hiccups early on, the side has found the right balance and put together a lethal and often unstoppable playing seven which catapulted the side to the top of the table.
On the other hand, the Bulls will rely on Bharat (272 raid points) and Vikash Kandola (130), who has put the pressures of underwhelming season behind him as he helped his side seal a 32-point win against Dabang Delhi to to take his team into the semifinal.
“You asked when Vikash will come good and he answered your calls. We always knew he will come good when the team needed him most,” coach Randhir Sehrawat said after his side’s 56-24 win in the first Eliminator.
Pune goes into this clash with one of the most effective three-pronged attacks in the season - Aslam Inamdar (138 raid points), Akash Shinde (131 ) and Mohit Goyat (120). Skipper Fazel Atrachali (51 tackle points) has had a great season too, topping the all-time defenders tally and becoming the most successful captain in the league’s history.
“It is not my best season yet. It will be when I lay hands on that trophy,” Fazel said. Standing in his way are the Thalaivas who were the ones who broke the Paltan’s seven-match winning streak. Ashan Kumar’s outfit will hope for an encore come Thursday.
“I have full faith in my boys. We come prepared for everything and our focus will not waver,” Ashan said about his side which will feature in the semifinal for the first time.
Thalaivas, packed with youngsters who have faced the best and worst of the league, will rely on Narender ( 232 raid points) and Ajinkya Pawar (123) to carry the team through. While the defence, sans Sagar Rathee (who is still doubtful for the knockout clash), has come along well courtesy some immaculate planning from the coaching unit, Pune will hope to draw out errors and capitalise on their lack of experience.