Before their heroics in Season 7, raiders ‘Baahubali’ Siddharth Desai and Naveen Kumar enjoyed tremendous rookie campaigns in Season 6 and gave the world a glimpse of their impeccable skills.
This past season, a new crop of debutants made the vivo Pro Kabaddi stage their own with stellar performances for their respective teams. Let’s take a look at the five debutants that made the most impact in Season 7 –
1. Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh – Bengal Warriors
After making headways at the international stage, Iranian Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh was picked up by Bengal Warriors to represent the team in Season 7 and the all-rounder has lived up to his billing with some incredible performances this season. Nabibakhsh contributed on both sides of the mat, scoring 92 raid points and 30 tackle points, to finish the campaign with 122 points. Nabibakhsh’s contributions were telling. Bengal Warriors had a 100% win record when the Iranian scored a Super 10 or a High 5. His ability to lead by example prompted coach BC Ramesh to trust him the team’s captaincy in the absence of talisman Maninder Singh. A champion in his debut campaign and a performer of the highest class, it came as no surprise when the all-rounder was bestowed with the Best Debutant Award.
2. Vinay – Haryana Steelers
After starting out on the fringes, Haryana Steelers’ Vinay quickly established himself in the starting seven for the duration of the campaign. The rookie raider scored three Super 10s and finished with 125 total raid points. He featured 21 times for Haryana Steelers and scored five or more raid points on 14 occasions, despite sharing the raiding load with Vikash Kandola and Prashanth Kumar Rai.
3. Sumit – U.P. Yoddha
In the previous campaign, U.P. Yoddha found a stellar Corner defender in Nitesh Kumar and in Season 7, they managed to find another elite Corner on the opposite flank in youngster Sumit. The rookie showed maturity beyond his years against some of the best raiders in the league and finished the season as the league’s second-highest tackle point scorer with 77 to his name in just 22 appearances. His average of 3.50 tackle points per game ranked the best in the league and his tally of seven High 5s were the joint-most in the league alongside Puneri Paltan’s PO Surjeet Singh.
4. V Ajith Kumar – Tamil Thalaivas
‘Iceman’ Ajay Thakur and ‘Showman’ Rahul Chaudhari were expected to form to potent raiding duo for Tamil Thalaivas, but things did not pan out as planned, as inconsistent form and injuries derailed their campaign. In the absence of skipper Ajay Thakur, Tamil Thalaivas promoted rookie raider V Ajith Kumar into the starting seven and the move paid dividends as the raider scored 121 raid points in just 19 appearances, just nine shy from Chaudhari’s team-high tally of 130. Ajith scored five Super 10s in the latter half of the campaign, with his best performance of 18 raid points coming against Puneri Paltan in a 36-36 tie.
5. Pankaj Mohite – Puneri Paltan
Speaking of Puneri Paltan, they too suffered from the injury bug, as superstar raider Nitin Tomar was forced to watch the team from the sidelines for a large portion of the campaign. In his absence, up stepped rookie raider Pankaj Mohite and established himself as one of the team’s lead raiders alongside Manjeet. Mohite scored 110 raid points in just 16 appearances and his average of 6.88 raid points ranked ninth in the league, above the likes of Shrikant Jadhav and Rahul Chaudhari. Blessed with incredible agility and armed with a dangerous Dubki, Mohite delivered some outstanding performances over the course of the season, with the standout being the one against Bengaluru Bulls where he upstaged Rohit Kumar and Pawan Sehrawat to score 17 raid points and lead Puneri Paltan to victory.