A tall and lanky raider in orange and white, pushing off from opposition defenders, taking flight and somersaulting backwards past the mid-line – there’s one raider who has caught everyone by surprise. Puneri Paltan has found a new hero in the seventh season of the Pro Kabaddi League in Pankaj Mohite.

The Mumbai-born raider has impressed everyone with his flair on the mat and his ability to score freely has left defenders baffled. He is currently Paltan’s leading raider with 110 raid points with a high average of 6.87 points per match and a not-out rate of 77.77 percent.

The youngster, however, had a very mild start to his debut season. With the likes of senior raiders like Nitin Tomar and Manjeet in the line-up, opportunities were hard to come by as the coach usually brought him on as a substitute.

“Since this is my first season, my coach didn’t really know how I play and about my game. Moreover, the senior players were given preference and I only got a chance when someone got injured,” he told Sportstar.

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But he didn’t lose heart.

Mohite has made the most of every chance he has got and has delivered when it has mattered the most in pressure situations. Whenever the team has been in dire need of points, the coach has turned to him and he’s become the team’s super-sub.

Mohite’s fortunes turned bright when he started featuring in the starting seven. “Whenever I got a chance, I proved myself to the coach and he started growing more confident about me. Now he tells me to go out there and play freely and says that nobody can catch me.”

When asked about the difference in preparation between called in as a substitute and starting, he said: “When I was a substitute, I had to prepare myself and be ready for whenever the opportunity arrived. I had to prepare myself to go in when and try and score big instantly.

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“Now that I am starting, I have to go in with a different mindset. I have to analyse the situation and play accordingly. I have to understand when to go in for a raid to score points and when to put in an empty raid. I also have to keep a constant eye on the scoreboard,” he said.

Mohite also talked about his relationship with player-turned-coach Anup Kumar, who is often seen having a separate word with him during timeouts. “The coach treats me like his son. He tells me what to do and how to do it. He motivates me a lot and guides me when to put in what raid and what kind of a point to get. That increases my self-confidence and helps me in scoring.”

Mohite has come of age in a derailed Paltan season and has played an instrumental role in keeping the team afloat. He said that the failure in defence in the past few matches has led to the steep downfall of his team. Pune has a paltry tackle point rate of 43 percent, which is its second lowest in the last four seasons.

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Moreover, Tomar and Manjeet blowing cold means Pankaj often finds himself as the last man standing. However, he doesn’t let the pressure get to him and his 39 raid points in the last three matches bear testament to that.

“There is pressure obviously, but what tough times taught me is how to not let it get the better of me and how to handle such situations. That’s what I go in with when I raid in such crunch situations,” he said.

Owing to Mohite’s offensive exploits, his team is currently enjoying a successful raid point rate of 43 percent, which is its highest in the past five seasons and second highest overall.

Puneri Paltan takes on Dabang Delhi later on Sunday.