Awesome U Mumba!

Scoring a thriller… U Mumba players celebrate after taming Bengaluru Bulls in the final of the ProKabaddi League.-PIC:PTI

Tipped to win the title after finishing runner-up to Jaipur Pink Panthers in the inaugural season last year, the Mumbai outfit has its tryst with destiny. By G. Viswanath.

The roar at the National Sports Club of India was deafening. Thousands that filled almost every seat at the famous sporting venue — some 200 metres from the Arabian Sea and not far from the religious shrine of Haji Ali — virtually turned out to be partisan. And Bengaluru Bulls, the challenger to the home team, U Mumba, realised that the home crowd support, indeed, mattered the most on the title-match day.

U Mumba scripted a thrilling victory over the Bulls in an absorbing final of the STAR Sports ProKabaddi Season-2 on August 23.

Though the final score read 36-30 in favour of the home team, there were moments late in the second half when Manjeet Chillar, with his individual brilliance, threatened to snatch the match from U Mumba’s grip. However, there was no such tragedy for U Mumba, which was strongly tipped to win the title after finishing runner-up to Jaipur Pink Panthers in the inaugural season last year. Anup Kumar’s team had its tryst with destiny.

After many hours of celebration, the U Mumba team took part in a unique victory parade the following day, travelling in open vehicles. The team also travelled in a first-class compartment from the suburban Andheri railway station to Churchgate in South Mumbai. Reflecting on the tournament, his team’s victory and the victory parade, Anup Kumar, the “Big Impression player” and the “Audience ki wish” player of the final, said: “It was unbelievable to witness such frenzy. The Mumbai crowds were brilliant and we thank them so much for their support.”

Anup Kumar, though not spectacular, rose to the occasion, contributed seven points and complemented Shabeer Bapu’s splendid raids. Bapu, 29, won the ‘Best Raider of the final’ award.

Celebrations continue... ProKabaddi League champion U Mumba players during a victory parade at the Marine Drive in Mumbai.-

Bapu’s three-point super raid helped his team out of trouble. “Shabeer Bapu gets all the credit for the win because of his super raid that turned the match. We won because of that tonight. Manjeet (Chillar, 11 points) is a good all-rounder and a good player. Whatever plan we had for him didn’t work and he played well. The celebrations were intense because we have been waiting for one year to win this trophy and now we have won it,” said Anup Kumar.

Like batsmen in cricket, it’s the raiders who are most often regarded the heroes in kabaddi. Although Bapu starred in the big raid, the final turned out to be poor for the raiders. Both teams relied on its defensive ploys to win points and this largely kept the score down to 16-10 at half time. “The moment I went on a raid, I forgot everything. We played defensively in the first half and were in trouble in the second. I wanted to give my best. I’ve realised what we have achieved,” said Bapu.

U Mumba had an all-round team in Anup Kumar, Bapu, Rishank Devadiga, Vishal Mane, Jeeva Kumar and Mohit Chillar. A very strong combination, according to Arjuna Award winner Raju Bhavsar. “U Mumbai is a balanced side. Their defensive quartet is very good. It has the edge. Ajay Thakur has to win points for Bengaluru to take the initiative,” said Bhavsar on the eve of the final.

A noticeable feature of the 56-match league and the four knockout play-offs was the safety tactics adopted by the first and the second raider, providing the leeway for the third to make a do-or-die raid. The intention was not to concede ground. “Moreover the teams were better prepared this time. Last year they were not in full grasp of the 10-second super tackle and 30-second raid rule,” said Bhavsar.

telugu Titans promised much with the inclusion of two Iranian players, Meraj Sheykh and Hadi Oshtorak. Both were paid in excess of Rs. 20 lakh. The Titans reached the semi-finals where they lost by a whisker to the Bulls. U Mumba trounced Patna Pirates, which was without Rakesh Kumar for a major part of the tournament. Among the other four teams, Puneri Paltan, Dabang Delhi and Bengal Warriors had a poor run.

India’s ODI and T20 captain M. S. Dhoni sat right through the final day’s proceedings. Arriving at the venue well in advance for the final and positional matches, Dhoni — an ambassador for STAR Sports — and Saif Ali Khan took part in the National Anthem rendered by cine star Alia Bhatt, and thereafter witnessed the action-packed match between Telugu Titans and Patna Pirates.

Dhoni followed every bit of the game from the VVIP stand and the President of the International Kabaddi Federation, Janardhan Singh Gehlot, who was beside him, explained the finer points of the game to the Indian captain.