After 32 days of exciting activity involving 56 matches and criss-crossing the sub continent the grand finale of the Season 3 Star Sports Pro Kabaddi will be held in New Delhi on Saturday at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. Who will be the undisputed champions? But before that come the semi-finals. All aches and pains will be forgotten as every individual prepares to help his team pass that test to come closer to the crown.

The form and performances of U Mumba and Patna Pirates definitely make them the frontrunners but can anybody ignore Puneri Paltan which has risen from the proverbial ‘ashes’ to be called the dark horses capable of upsetting the top two’s calculations? So what’s in store in the penultimate round?

At this juncture none of the four can afford even a minor slip! A small error may compound into a severe crisis and just wipe out all the efforts, hard work and planning that had gone in reaching this stage.

Puneri Paltan take the field on Friday knowing that they have two high peaks to conquer and the first will be Patna Pirates led by either Manpreet Singh or Sandeep Narwal. This will be the bigger of the two semi-final clashes. The rivals were involved in two draws this season and this will be the decider. Both will be cautious and waiting for the other to take the initiative.

It appears Patna Pirates had rested Manpreet Singh to conserve him for Friday’s tough test after they ensured their place. Or was it a ploy to keep the rivals guessing? Manpreet Singh’s towering presence will be a great calming and guiding influence on the young and temperamental players, especially when it comes to reining in the aggressive Manjeet Chhillar.

The Puneri Paltan skipper Manjeet Chhillar, thrives in pressure cooker situations and that’s where Manpreet Singh can be of immense help. His on court assessment will always be more valuable than the coach’s inputs from the bench. But can Patna Pirates strike a perfect balance in the team? It’s a tricky situation indeed. However, they can go to plan two by taking Manpreet Singh off the court if things don’t fall in place.

Patna Pirates are endowed with riches. Sandeep and Pardeep the ‘star’ Narwals, both have been as good as any top player in the league. Pardeep Narwal is the only raider to cross the century mark in the league. Although Sandeep Narwal has concentrated on defence this season he too is an accomplished raider.

But Patna Pirates have yet another quality raider in Rohit Kumar. The Navy man has been in sublime form. His tally of raiding points is 88 and surely would have touched hundred had he not been away on national duty. Remember how Rohit Kumar and Pardeep Narwal tormented Manjeet Chhillar in the earlier encounters. This time too Patna Pirates will try to get Manjeet Chhillar early and keep him out for long periods.

Puneri Paltan are also very strong in attack. Despite Ajay Thakur’s poor form they have amassed points through Manpreet Singh, Deepak Hooda and the silent but efficient Surendra Singh. They also have Tushar Patil a very aggressive raider to take care of the do-or die raids. Patna Pirates too have one such man going by the name of Rajesh Mondal.

Coming to the defences, Puneri Paltan look better organised than their counterparts. Manjeet Chhillar is the top defender with 49 points and Surjeet the right cover is not too behind with 43 tackles. Add to that Jasmer Gulia who has settled down in the right-corner with a tally of 38 and remember he has replaced the pint-sized Prashant Chavan who came over from Jaipur Pink Panthers.

Sandeep Narwal at the right corner with his speed and power has been outstanding but Sunil Kumar have not been in form for Patna Pirates. They do have Iranian Hadi Oshtorak and D Suresh Kumar but they haven’t done anything that has caught the eye. Going by the track record of these two teams it will be the best clash of the tournament with Puneri Paltan having that slight edge.

U Mumba start with a huge psychological advantage as they have always beaten the Bengal Warriors and how so ever loudly the tiger may try to roar they will have the ammunition to hunt it down. This season U Mumba have beaten the Bengal Warriors with a lot to spare as the scores of 32-21 and 30-17 would rightly suggest.

U Mumba have been so efficiently precise in their campaign after suffering two losses in the early stages that they then recorded 10 wins in a row, a record, which speaks volumes of their team strength. They have a man for every crisis. Didn’t Rakesh Kumar lead ably when Anup Kumar was not there? Haven’t Rishank Devadiga and Fazel Atrachali carried successfully the burden of attack and defence when four of the key players were away on national duty? They have a man for all jobs at all times. Be it Jeeva Kumar or even Bhupinder Singh, each one has raised his hand when demanded by Coach Edachery Bhaskaran.

Bengal Warriors too have their aces. Nilesh Shinde is a good defender and Captain. Girish Ernak if he is fit is a good left-corner. He has 33 tackle points and Nilesh Shine has 28 but is that enough to match the rival defence. Not exactly for besides Mohit Chhillar (34) and Surender Nada they have Jeeva Kumar and Vishal Mane and we haven’t talked about Rakesh Kumar who can block well. Rishank Deavadiga is a handy all-rounder too.

So Jang Kun Lee and Nitin Tomar’s job will be difficult. In the second leg U Mumba just didn’t show interest in catching these two till they were sure of doing so. Both the raiders will be drawn in deep before being tackled. If U Mumba get a substantial lead early the onus will be on the Bengal Warriors raiders to bridge the gap and this will be a herculean task.

Just getting caught is different than a pile of five-six that falls heavily on the attacker. That is when self doubts creep in and the tough as nails Jang Kun Lee and the slightly built Nitin Tomar will have to survive the special treatment to be able to attack with some guts and vigour.