A bright LED banner bearing the faces of India's biggest kabaddi stars greets you as you get off the shuttle bus and enter Ahmedabad airport. The news that the playoffs and final of the seventh season of the ProKabaddi League (PKL 2019) are to be held in the city is hard to miss due to the sheer number of these posters – placed by the conveyor belts, restrooms, and the exits.
With composer-singer-lyricist Amit Trivedi set to perform at the opening ceremony, kabaddi is the talk of the town. The platform is set for a new champion to come through. Bengal Warriors faces Dabang Delhi in the PKL 2019 final on Saturday.
After three months and 136 matches, it is fitting that the two teams that topped the table will vie for glory. This isn't the most expected final, though. Many favoured defending champion Bengaluru Bulls and season two-champion U Mumba to make it to the summit clash.
The semifinals, however, threw up a different tale. Led by B.C. Ramesh, Bengal Warriors became the second team to progress to the final after sealing a tense 37-35 triumph over U Mumba. The Warriors started the season as the underdog, but grew in strength.
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The side opted for an overhaul and let go of big names in Jang Kun Lee, Surjeet Singh, and Ran Singh. What did the trick was that it roped in coach Ramesh, who led Bulls to the title last season. The team also made a smart money move to grab all-rounder Mohammed Esmaeil Nabibakhsh for Rs 77.5 lakh.
The Iranian has shown signs of emerging as a spectacular catch. The Warriors enjoyed an unbeaten run at home and stayed in the top half of the table throughout. Cruising to 14 wins from a possible 22, the side rode on Maninder Singh's 205 raid points and defensive anchor Baldev Singh's 64 tackle points to sail through.
Coming together as a cohesive unit and not being dependent on one player set the team apart.The Bulls, on the other hand, was heavily dependent on Pawan Kumar Sehrawat, while Patna Pirates relied solely on Pardeep Narwal.
Maninder suffered a shoulder injury and was kept out of the semifinal, but it did not dampen spirits. Veteran Sukesh Hegde ensured the Warriors did not miss Maninder as he pocketed eight points and received strong support from Nabibakhsh to see the side through.
The support raiders in K. Prapanjan, Nabibakhsh, and Hegde have contributed 49 percent of the team's total raid points this season, showcasing the team's all-round display. The Warriors will, in a sense, take on a very similar opponent in Dabang Delhi.
Delhi's flawless campaign can be attributed to its harmony between youth and experience. The seasoned defensive quartet of Ravinder Pahal, Joginder Narwal, Anil Kumar and Vishal Mane has been indomitable, while 19-year-old Naveen Kumar has enjoyed a scintillating campaign, surging into a league of his own.
Proving himself as the most consistent player of PKL 2019, Naveen has scored an astounding 20 consecutive Super 10's, meaning he has scored a minimum of 10 points in the last 20 matches he has played. But there's more to the side's raiding than just him, as Chandran Ranjit and Vijay have also chipped in with crucial points.
Much like Warriors, Dabang Delhi is no one-man show. That begs the question, what will separate these two sides?
"We are two of the best teams in the final. We will both go in with our strategies and look for the win — no team wants to lose. The team that makes fewer errors will emerge victorious tomorrow. I can assure you that it will be a great game," said Dabang Delhi's coach Krishnan Kumar Hooda.
Bengal Warriors might just hold the edge. It is the only team Dabang Delhi has not beaten this season. Will Bengal Warriors keep the unbeaten streak alive or can Dabang Delhi power through? All answers at the EKA Arena on Saturday.
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