From Naveen Kumar’s quest for history to the outstanding defences, there’s a lot to watch out for in the second half of the campaign.
Match 66 of vivo Pro Kabaddi Season 7 between Dabang Delhi K.C. and Patna Pirates marked the midway point of the league stage of this campaign and the action so far has been nothing short of breathtaking. Despite Season 7 belonging to the defenders so far, Dabang Delhi K.C.’s teenage superstar Naveen Kumar has taken the league by storm and is one of the primary reasons why the side from the capital see themselves 10 points clear at the top of the standings.
While there are plenty of plotlines on offer, we look at some of the most tantalizing possibilities on the horizon in the second half of the league stage:
1. Naveen Kumar’s bid for the Best Raider Award
The story of the season has undoubtedly been Dabang Delhi K.C.’s Naveen, who in his last outing created history by becoming the first man in vivo Pro Kabaddi to score nine successive Super 10s. Naveen has notched up, a league-leading, 130 raid points at a stunning average of 11.82 and has scored a Super 10 in all but one appearances this season. His devastating form has fired Dabang Delhi K.C. to the top of the standings. At his current pace, Naveen will finish the league stage with 260 raid points. However, hot on his heels and just two raid points behind is reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), Bengaluru Bulls’ ‘Hi-Flyer’ Pawan Kumar Sehrawat. ‘Record-Breaker’ Pardeep Narwal is third in the list, 26 points behind Naveen, but given his past exploits, a couple of matches could be all it takes for the Patna Pirates skipper to make up ground on Sehrawat and Naveen.
If Naveen continues, or even improves, on his current form and manages to finish as the league’s leading raid point scorer, he will become the second-youngest player ever to win the Best Raider Award, behind Pardeep. The season is long and possibilities aplenty but irrespective of what transpires, kabaddi has surely found a new gem in Naveen.
2. The domination of the defenders
Season 7 has belonged to the defenders. Teams have shown their willingness to gamble on do-or-die raids and have executed tackles and scored tackle points at an unprecedented level. While only eight teams in Season 5 and nine in Season 6 averaged over nine tackle points a game, all 12 teams are comfortably averaging over that benchmark this year. Season 5 saw a total of 201 tackle points, while the subsequent campaign saw 227, however, teams in Season 7 have already accounted for 124 Super Tackles in 66 matches. Telugu Titans even broke the record for most Super Tackles in a match with seven against Puneri Paltan, beating the previous record of six held by the team they broke the record against. As many as seven defenders are averaging over three tackle points per game this season, a testament to the quality of defences this season.
The defensive units have been stellar and if teams continue in a similar verve, we’re likely to witness numerous more extraordinary tackles.
3. The challenge of the home leg
By becoming the first team ever to finish with a 100%-win record in their home leg since the inception of a 12-team league, Dabang Delhi K.C. broke the streak of teams struggling to find form in front of their home fans. Before the side from the capital, only U Mumba could muster multiple wins during their home leg. The other four teams had a combined record of one win, one tie and 14 losses, indicating a worrisome trend for the home sides. But with Dabang Delhi K.C. proving that it is not impossible to enjoy a good home leg, the other six teams will be aiming to do just as well as the league leaders. However, given that the teams have already been involved in 11 high-octane games, the key to the success for hosts could lie in their bench strength.
Four out of the current top six teams are yet to play their home legs and the chasing pack will be eagerly waiting to have a go at the teams above them and maybe even close the gap in their bids for playoff places.
4. All to play for
While Dabang Delhi K.C. have opened a 10-point lead at the top of the standings, it’s still all to play for from top to bottom. The distance between 12th placed Patna Pirates and sixth-placed U Mumba is 10 points as well, meaning a couple of good results could see the three-time champions climb a few places in the standings. Three teams – Gujarat Fortunegiants, Tamil Thalaivas and Puneri Paltan – are currently tied on 25 points and only separated by score difference, another indicator to how closely contested and evenly matched the teams are. In the top 6, second-placed Bengal Warriors have managed 39 points so far, while sixth-placed U Mumba have 29, meaning a couple of bad outings could see a team drop as many as four to five spots in the standings.
U.P. Yoddha proved last season that no situation is unsalvageable by winning five of their last six matches after a winless run of nine to qualify for the playoffs. There’s still 55 points up for grabs for all 12 teams and a run of few good or bad results could drastically alter their fortunes.