Four teams, two matches and all eyes on one prize – the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi trophy and the chance to become Star Sports Pro Kabaddi champions. The top four teams in Season 2 of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi – U Mumba, Telugu Titans, Bengaluru Bulls and Patna Pirates have fought it out with their sweat and tears after 56 matches of intense action over 32 days. But while those results have helped them get to this stage, it all boils down to one single moment for these players- The #FinalPanga.
How have these four teams made it till this final hurdle – who were their star players and will they be able to step up on the big stage to make it till the end?
The table toppers hold a highly impressive record in Season 2 with a record number of wins for a single team with 12 out of 14 matches. They have an abundance of riches which they exhibited through their equally good bench strength. They have a super star in Captain Anup Kumar. He has a steadying and calming influence on his players as he guides them successfully through any crisis. On many occasions U Mumba made successful comebacks with Anup himself leading from the front. Anup has got immense help from Rishank Devadiga the find of the last season. He has now become one of the foremost players who can be trusted for the do-or-die third empty raids.
Anup and Rishank are capable defenders too, especially when it comes to supporting the main defenders Mohit Chhillar (36 tackle points) and Surendra Nada (28 tackle points), who are the right and left corners and central defender Jeeva Kumar (27 tackle points), known for his gutsy and timely tackles. Then they have the unmerciful Vishal Mane who is dreaded for his tackles.
Mumbai has tremendous bench strength. They successfully utilised Bhupender Singh and Pradeep Kumar (28 raiding points) as raiders when their super star Shabeer Bapu Sharfudeen was not available due to injury like last year. If Shabeer is fit to do battle then Mumba will be a dominant force going into the play-offs. Iran captain Fazel Atrachali showed his mettle in the limited chances he got. Is he the trump card to be used by coach E Bhaskaran to surprise the opponents?
On current form and fitness U Mumba look well prepared for the challenges ahead. They enjoyed the luxury of resting their full squad in the last two outings which has given their best players time to remain injury-free, recoup, recover and re-strategise. That’s the advantage you have when you keep the momentum going. Overall U Mumba is the best balanced side with good replacements at hand.
They look well equipped to achieve their goal, the title which they missed last season.
Form guide (most recent first): LWWWLWWWWWWWWW – 12 wins, 2 losses – 60 points
Head to head (vs Jaipur Pink Panthers/Patna Pirates): 1 win, 1 loss/2 wins
Key players: Mohit Chhillar, Shabeer Bapu, Vishal Mane
Missing out on qualification for the play-offs in Season 1 by only one point, Telugu Titans redeemed themselves to great lengths with their stupendous showing in Season 2 and qualified for the play-offs in second position with the most number of draws this season (3).
Though their performance was not as fluent as that of U Mumba they have shown to have the wherewithal to do battle against the best. In Rahul Chaudhari (79 points), they have last season’s best attacker in their ranks. He has seen a few up and downs in form this year but Titans’ raiding side is still formidable. While Rahul is full of flair they have a silent performer in Sukesh Hegde. Despite being a do-or-die who has sacrificed more for his team his tally of 62 points is quite high. Then they have Prashant Rai whose tally of 46 raid points as an off and on player speaks for itself.
Titans’ best asset is however Deepak Niwas Hudda (54 raiding points and 27 tackle points), who should undoubtedly be one of the best all-rounders in the league. The tall Haryana lad has an enviable wiry but strong physique which he uses to bulldoze a couple of defenders and has the skills, strength and timing to block and immobilize any attacker. He is a complete player in the making.
If one player were to decide the fate of a match then Titans have the best in Meraj Sheykh the sleek and fast moving Iranian who can score a super raid or come up with a super tackle at will at crucial junctures. They also have the baby-faced Sandeep Kandola who has the talent to blossom into a world class defender. He is a dependable left corner who needs to curb his enthusiasm.
With the sort of showing and inherent strength, Titans are the dark horses who may upset others. But their opponents in the second semi-final will be the one team that has constantly bested them throughout both editions of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi – Bengaluru Bulls. Having already lost to them both times in Season 2 and being on the cusp of qualification for the play-offs in Season 1 but losing to the same opponents, Telugu Titans will be hoping to finally get one up on their Southern rivals. Their ultra-aggressive attitude and youthful outlook could be the key to taking home the big prize.
Form guide (most recent first): WLDDWWDLWWLWWW – 8 wins, 3 draws, 3 losses – 50 points
Head to head (vs Bengaluru Bulls): 2 losses
Key players: Sukesh Hedge, Sandeep, Meraj Sheykh
Although they finished in third place in Season 2 to set up a clash with Telugu Titans for a place in the finals, Bengaluru Bulls always seem to secure victories through the skin of their teeth. They were also able to find their momentum in the second half of the season although they haven’t secured a victory against U Mumba or Jaipur Pink Panthers this season, especially being the first team to lose to Jaipur Pink Panthers and their 3 match losing streak that extending into their home leg. But their story against Telugu Titans is a different one altogether. Unbeaten against them across two editions of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi, the Bulls will be feeling extremely confident regarding their Southern rivals when it comes to the match-up for the play-offs.
Their performance was a story of a few ups and downs but that is no disqualification for them being one of the front-runners for the title. In Ajay Thakur (68 points), they have a top raider who can be counted upon to cause havoc in opposition ranks on his day. But the side which had the measure of the Titans on every occasion they met in the league, four to be precise will have to pull up something special this time as both will be vying for a place in the title round.
So in that context their Captain Manjeet Chillar (50 raid points and 32 tackle points), has to fire on all fronts. The quality all-rounder is capable of boosting his defence and can raid in the most trying circumstances. Rajesh Mondal the third raider has also performed well for the Bulls.
The Bengaluru defence has, time and again helped the team to come out of tight situations. At right corner they have veteran Dharmaraj Cherlathan. He can block any top raider with strength aided by his flawless technique. His partner on the left is Joginder Narwal known as the ‘Tiger’. He can bring down any raider with his perfect waist and ankle holds. For a raider entering the territory manned by these two it is akin to straying into a minefield.
Then there is Somvir Shekhar in the middle who enjoys the confidence of Coach Randhir Singh Sherawat. Bengaluru’s defence is a fortress which should take some doing to breach. To sum up, Bengaluru is a defence oriented side which also has an attack which can give them enough points to put it across their rivals.
Bengaluru Bulls will be hoping for consistency and an all-round effort from their experienced and young players to push them over the line against the Telugu Titans.
Form guide (most recent first): WWLLLWWLWWWLW – 8 wins, 5 losses – 43 points
Head to head (vs Bengaluru Bulls): 2 losses
Key players: Somvir Shekhar, Ajay Thakur, Dharmaraj Cheralathan
Having sweated it out for a place in the semi- finals by beating defending champions Jaipur Pink Panthers, the Patna Pirates will be brimming with confidence as they take on mighty U Mumba on their home turf. They played as a well-knit unit against Pune and Jaipur in the last phase to eventually make the grade and Mumba can’t afford to take them lightly.
No one gave them a chance after the exit of their Captain Rakesh Kumar and two big defeats against Telugu Titans and Dabang Delhi had crushed their morale. But the turnaround came when they defeated Bengaluru Bulls at home. They went on to beat Kolkata, lose to Mumbai before coming good in Pune.
They have a young side led by the youngest captain Sandeep Narwal a quality all-rounder. They have in their ranks players like Ravi Dalal and Deepak Narwal and Gurvinder who are skilled enough to trouble rival defences. But U Mumba have the psychological advantage of having beaten them on both occasions this year, albeit narrowly.
Patna don’t have a superstar in their ranks who can single-handedly decide the fate of the match. Their teamplay wins matches for them. They have the fast improving Korean Tae Deok Eom in their ranks who will be a threat to the Mumba defence with his speed and power. He has also picked up a few tricks from the Indian internationals which can prove effective.
Patna’s statistics also don’t reflect much. Deepak Narwal (50 raid points), Ravi Dalal (44 raid points), Sandeep Narwal (36 raid points) are figures which don’t put them in the top bracket. But their defence now looks good with Sandeep himself with Girish Ernak, D Suresh looking more than confident while dealing with top raiders. So beware U Mumba!
Form guide (most recent first): WWLWLWLDWWLWLL – 7 wins, 1 draw, 6 losses – 41 points
Head to head (in season 2 vs U Mumba): 2 losses
Key players: Sandeep Narwal, Gurvinder Singh, Girish Ernak