The first day of the ninth season of the Pro Kabaddi League was an action-packed affair with three fixtures marking the opening day.
Dabang Delhi, UP Yoddha, and Bengaluru Bulls registered their first wins of the season while U Mumba, Telugu Titans, and Jaipur Pink Panthers returned with much to work out in terms of strategy and lineup.
Here are the major talking points from day 1 of the Pro Kabaddi League.
RULE CHANGES: CONTENTIOUS LOBBY RULE TWEAKED
The lobby rule in Pro Kabaddi is a hotly contested part of the playing conditions in the league. The lobby is the area on either side of the mat. This space becomes active in different ways during a raid. A raider can step into the lobby area without penalty ONLY if he has managed a touch on an opponent. If he steps into the lobby without tagging a defender, he is deemed out of bounds and a point goes to the opponent. In its old form, if a defender followed the raider into the lobby, the defender was deemed out, and points would be taken off the defending side too - a very unpopular provision. It is this provision that allowed Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh to pull off an eight-point raiding attempt last season when he was in Bengal Warriors’ colours. Take a look at that point here. Skip to the 2:20 min mark.
The new provision exempts defenders from losing their position on the mat or points in that part of the play. So no more freak raids of the sort, Nabibakhsh!
Another important tweak is the number of substitutions permitted. Earlier, five substitutions were allowed during the match along with one during the half-time mark. In PKL 9, teams are permitted to make seven changes during the match, taking the total number of permitted substitutions to eight. Those with the squad depth can end up fielding a different seven at any point of the match using this rule change. Opening day saw teams use this allowance smartly to negotiate all-outs and do-or-die situations. A larger squad is also allowed - 14 now as opposed to 12 in the previous seasons. All this allows more players to get mat time and coaches to try different combinations, especially in the opening week.
RUSTY SUPERSTARS BUT NAVEEN, SURENDER SHINE
Naveen Kumar is well and truly one among the Kabaddi elite in the PKL after the kind of dominance and consistency he has managed in the last three seasons. The opening fixture between Dabang Delhi and U Mumba saw Naveen go about business as usual, registering his 43rd career super 10. His speed and agility across the mat left gaps in the U Mumba defense exposed. In the second half, a thigh hold on Naveen seemed to pull his injured knee and the raider was seen crouching in pain on the sidelines. But word after the match is that it was a strain. However, knowing how bad his knee injury was last season, Krishan Kumar Hooda should exercise caution when figuring out Naveen’s workload. Not using him for the entirety of a match could be one way but Naveen and his team will know best.
Life was not easy for veterans Rahul Chaudhari and Pardeep Narwal. Jaipur Pink Panthers brought in Chaudhari as part of their main attack but the Showman struggled to get going. In eight raids, he managed just one point. but Jaipur took a tad too long to substitute the out-of-form raider with Bhavani Rajput. The youngster managed four points from six raids and helped Jaipur edge closer to UP to make it a tight finish which Jaipur could not close out.
Narwal too took over 30 minutes to register his first point but in the second half, he managed to quickly register seven points in the second half which proved crucial to his team’s cause.
An important takeaway from UP Yoddhas is the evolution of Surender Gil the raider. Gill has shown time and again last season that he has what it takes to assume main raiding responsibilities for his side, especially given that he stepped up when Narwal was woefully off colour. In this opening game for UP too, he made the very same point, taking the attack to Jaipur with nine points to his name (which also included a tackle point). Teams have the option of maximising the potential of these star raiders by taking the edge off and pairing them alongside youngsters who have found a rhythm to their game might be a smart way forward.
Vikash Kandola and Siddharth Desai took each other on when their teams, Bengaluru Bulls and Telugu Titans, clashed on day 1. Both are young stars who have established their credentials on the PKL stage. However, while Kandola has moved from strength to strength, Desai has suffered a steady decline in form. An injury to his shoulder that ruled him out for the season last time only added to his depreciating value. In the opening game on Friday, Kandola had a slow start to life with the Bulls, managing five points in 13 raids with Neeraj Narwal (seven points in as many raids) doing most of the heavy lifting.
Desai, on the other hand, managed four points in 10 raids, with just one touch point in the mix. Bonus points were easily managed, thanks to his height, but Desai looked sluggish and stiff on the mat. His form and lack of agility will be a concern for the team, which seems to have one of the best squads on paper. With the likes of Rajnish showing impressive efficacy, Desai needs to watch his back.
U MUMBA’S RAIDING TROUBLES CONTINUE
U Mumba’s defense took time to settle into life without Fazel Atrachali manning the left. However, the bigger concern right now will be their hiccups in raiding. U Mumba roped in Guman Singh for INR 1.22 CR but he looked flummoxed against Dabang Delhi. While Ashish stepped in to handle the load, Guman will need to come good to help U Mumba stay afloat against raider-heavy teams.
TALENTS TO WATCH:
Abhishek KS (Jaipur Pink Panthers)- Four points - On debut, Abhishek brought down Pardeep Narwal for his first tackle point. His fearless approach bodes well for Jaipur
Rajnish (Telugu Titans) - Seven points - Rajnish continues to be the perfect impact sub for Titans and has the mettle to even double up as their main raider.