The metamorphosis of kabaddi, and how!

The Pro Kabaddi League has enjoyed a successful run as one of India’s most popular sports leagues since its inception in 2014. It has, crucially, changed the image of the sport.

Three on the trot... players of Patna Pirates celebrate with the trophy after defeating Gujarat Fortunegiants in the Pro Kabaddi League final in Chennai. Patna Pirates, with its third successive title, became the League’s most successful team.   -  PTI

The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) Season 5 was, by far, the biggest in terms of the number of teams, the number of matches and the number of viewers.

The 2017 edition featured a total of 12 teams — including the four new sides, Gujarat Fortunegiants, Haryana Steelers, Tamil Thalaivas and U.P. Yoddha — that played a whopping 138 matches. The event witnessed an increased viewership of 14 per cent in the league stages alone.

After three months of high-octane action and nail-biting finishes featuring crunching tackles and wily dodges, Patna Pirates won its third title on the trot to become the PKL’s most successful team.

Blazing young guns

The PKL is an ideal platform for the youngsters to prove their worth, and boy did the colts put up a show! The phenomenal Pardeep Narwal not only led Patna Pirates to glory, but also went on to re-write the PKL history in the process. The 20-year-old raider had a sensational run and amassed a jaw-dropping 369 points in the season. The haul also included a record 34 points during the second eliminator against Haryana Steelers.

Patna Pirates’ raider Pardeep Narwal tries to wriggle out of a Bengal Warriors’ lock in the second qualifier of the Pro Kabaddi League. Narwal had a sensational run in the League and amassed a jaw-dropping 369 points.   -  R. Ragu

Sachin Tawar, named the ‘Debutant of The Season’, was undoubtedly the find of PKL-5. The 18-year-old sensation from Rajasthan played a crucial role in taking Gujarat Fortunegiants to the final. He finished with an impressive haul of 173 points.

Age no barrier

The Haryana Steelers skipper, Surender Nada, proved that age was no deterrent, as the 30-year-old racked up a season-high 80 tackle points. The veteran successfully led his team to the playoffs and was awarded the ‘Defender of The Tournament’ prize for his exemplary skills.

New teams impress

Three of the new entrants, Haryana Steelers, U.P. Yoddha and Gujarat Fortunegiants made it to the playoff stage, with the Gujarat outfit finishing runner-up.

However, Tamil Thalaivas, led by the experienced Ajay Thakur, enjoyed no such success and managed to register only six wins from 22 games to finish at the bottom of its group.

Youth embraces PKL

The advent of the KBD Juniors tournament, which saw the top schools from the 12 franchise cities compete against each other, made the league a massive hit among children. The move has been widely appreciated and is seen as a great platform for youngsters to step into the world of professional kabaddi, while taking a cue from young performers such as Sachin.

Children between the ages of four and 14 formed a staggering 18 per cent of the total viewership. And adding to this was the fact that viewers below the age of 30 constituted more than 54 per cent of the total viewership.

Tamil Nadu laps up kabaddi

It is a well-known fact that kabaddi has its roots in Tamil Nadu. While the local team failed to live up to the expectations, it did not stop the state’s kabaddi buffs from catching all the action on TV. The television viewership in the state shot up by nearly three times from last year.

In fact, all the states with new teams (Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and the PHCHP belt of Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh) accounted for 28 per cent of the total viewership.

Format might need tweaking

For a sport as intense and fast-paced as kabaddi — where each match is all of 40 minutes — a three-month league featuring six games a week seemed a bit too stretched out.

Teams often went without a game for days, which could be seen as a negative point of PKL. However, when it came to the home leg, teams had to play six matches in a span of seven-eight days, which was taxing, to say the least. The irregularity in playing time is an issue that needs to be addressed ahead of the next edition.

Given the physical nature of the sport, the League saw quite a few injuries, and Jaipur Pink Panthers captain Manjeet Chillar was one of the major victims. However, the extended duration of the League gave the players enough time to recover and return to action.

Overall, the PKL has enjoyed a successful run as one of India’s most popular sports leagues since its inception in 2014. It has, crucially, changed the image of the sport — from what was largely regarded as a crude rural game to a polished sport — giving kabaddi the much-needed impetus. The League has also given the players a monumental boost in terms of their reputation and compensation. It has attracted foreign players, making the sport all the more appealing. Looks like the PKL, which became India’s largest sports league by hosting 12 teams, is here to stay.