The penultimate day of Season 5’s third Inter Zone Challenge Week recorded two intensely fought encounters which ended with only one point separating the teams. In the first match of the evening, Puneri Paltan overcame an inspired U.P. Yoddha side to register a slender 34-33 win all thanks to captain Deepak Hooda’s brilliance, after which Jaipur Pink Panthers beat hosts Tamil Thalaivas 27-26.

Hooda not only scored a match-high 17 points to take his team over the line but pulled off super raids at important junctures to turn the match in their favour. At the post-match conference, Hooda was happy to have contributed to the team’s cause. “This is my best performance of the season and I am happy. But I made a mistake in defence. Otherwise, I performed well and would like to continue this momentum because it helps my team.”

At one point, Pune were leading by almost 12 points but U.P. Yoddha came back strongly. Hooda acknowledged that they lost the momentum in the last quarter. “We have won this match but we could have won by a big margin. It didn’t happen because we gave away points in the last minutes of the match. It was a tight situation and we could have lost the match as well. There were a lot of mistakes and we will definitely work on them. The thing which we have learned is that we need to control the defence a bit,” he said.

In the second match of the day, the Thalaivas fell short against Jaipur Pink Panthers. After the much-needed win, Jaipur captain Manjeet Chhillar revealed what the team’s strategy was in the second half. “I was telling them not to give away bonus points. It was okay to give touch points but if we gave touch as well as bonus points then it could have been a disadvantage for us,” he said.

Though Chhillar pulled off the all-important tackle in the last minute on K. Prapanjan to completely take the match away from Chennai, he went into raid only once in the entirety of the match. When asked for the reason, Chhillar said: “It depends on the situation. If a situation arises where I have to raid then I will, otherwise I won’t. As a captain, I need to be there on the mat as long as possible and when the raiders are performing well, then there is no need for me to raid.”