It was the year 2014 when India witnessed a seismic sporting revolution after Star India and Mashal Sports joined forces to give the ancient game of kabaddi a new lease of life in a brand-new avatar known as VIVO Pro Kabaddi. Backed by the Kabaddi Federation, Asian Kabaddi Federation and Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India, eight teams, injected with many international players, competed in 60 matches in a unique format that elevated the sport to an unprecedented height.
Of 60 matches, 56 were played over the course of the league phase with the top four teams going on to qualify for the semi-finals. Jaipur Pink Panthers emerged victorious after beating U Mumba 35-24 in the final. The Panthers were the deserving winners having been the most consistent and successful team with 10 wins from 14 league stage matches. They were led by the highly experienced Navneet Gautam, an Arjuna awardee and two-time gold medal winner in the Asian Games as well as Asian Indoor Games.
Under the guidance of Gautam and tutelage of head coach Kasinathan Baskaran, the Abhishek Bachchan-owned franchise brushed aside most of the competition during the league phase before steamrolling the Patna Pirates in the first semifinal with a 38-18 scoreline. Raider Maninder Singh was in inspiring form for the Panthers, finishing the season with 130 points, which made him one of the top 3 raiders of the inaugural edition.
Jasvir Singh also played a major role, starring with 106 raid points, while Rohit Rana held the fort in defence with 37 successful tackles. The Panthers did face some resistance in the final in Mumbai in front a raucous crowd firmly behind the home team but they managed to keep their cool and displayed tremendous defensive fortitude, allowing U Mumba just 24 points on the night, while the Maninder-Jasvir duo combined beautifully in attack for an eventual 11-point win.
Despite finishing runners-up, U Mumba could hold their heads high after enjoying a fine campaign that saw them lose just three matches – as many as Jaipur – before their loss in the final. Led commendably by Arjuna awardee and Season 1 MVP Anup Kumar, U Mumba were one of the most exciting teams to watch with young charges like Shabeer Bappu and Rishank Devadiga also making waves. Meanwhile, Surender Nada was their best defender, ending the season second on the leaderboard for successful tackles (47).
Patna Pirates, the only team presently to make the semis in all four seasons of Pro Kabaddi, ended the first edition in third spot after beating Bengaluru Bulls 29-22 in the third-place playoff. Their star all-rounder Rakesh Kumar, the costliest player in Season 1, proved to be worth his weight in gold with 88 raid points and 11 successful tackles. However, it was Ravi Dalal who scored most raid points (111) for the Pirates. Not to mention, Sandeep Narwal was one of the revelations of the season with 92 points and 21 successful tackles.
Bengaluru Bulls finished fourth thanks largely to the efforts of Ajay Thakur, who notched up 122 raid points, and the ever-robust Manjeet Chhillar, who stood out in both attack and defence with 71 raid points and 51 successful tackles (highest in Season 1). Telugu Titans’ Rahul Chaudhari finished second on the leaderboard for raid points (151) behind Anup (155) as the Titans finished fifth in the league, narrowly missing out on a semis berth.
Dabang Delhi finished sixth, winning just five matches in spite of Kashiling Adake and Surjeet Narwal’s 226 raid points (113 each). Delhi skipper Jasmer Singh Gulia also ended fourth on the leaderboard for successful tackles (36). Bengal Warriors and Puneri Paltan had largely forgettable campaigns, finishing in seventh and eighth spots under the captaincy of Nilesh Shinde and Wazir Singh respectively.