Right from the very start of VIVO Pro Kabaddi Season 5, debutants Gujarat Fortunegiants dominated the league with impenetrable defence and consistent offence. A team with a new owner, an experienced coach and a fresh-looking squad wreaked havoc over the span of three months to emerge as the favourites to win. However, coach Manpreet Singh’s men fell short at the final hurdle which resulted in Patna Pirates winning the coveted trophy with a 55-38 victory and completing a hat-trick of titles.

In the final post-match press conference of the season, coach Manpreet rued the inability of his strong defensive unit to handle Patna’s raiders, led by the genius Pardeep Narwal. “Gujarat have been known over the course of the season for their defence. We started the match off on the right foot and we had built up quite a good lead [Gujarat were leading 14-6 by the 10th minute] but after that both our corners failed and from there it got really difficult to recover. Two or three times the match got really close but still, it got away from us. Someone or the other kept making mistakes,” he said.

Gujarat has been the only team which has played with the same four defenders in every game as the coach did not want to unsettle the winning combination. But in the most important match of the season, the defence failed to fire and one of the best corner defence combinations of the league in Abozar Mighani and Fazel Atrachali failed to rise to the occasion. “As a coach and as a player, I accept that we have lost. But we didn't lose because of the raiders as they scored well. We lost because our main defenders and our senior players Abozar and Fazel couldn't perform well, the way they have done in the entire league. It happens in sport. They played well in 22-23 matches, tackled in every match and gave the team a lead. With the pressure of the final match, they should have shown the experience but they couldn't. This happens. Luck matters a lot too,” Manpreet said.

When asked why he did not substitute the defenders when they failed to perform against Patna, he added, “The defenders sitting out are very young - 18-19 years old - and Abozar and Fazel have more experience than them and in the entire league, they won matches for us. We are a new team but they took us to the top. It's all thanks to them that they used their experience to get us this far. And just because we lost one match, I can't say that they are no good. But it's a matter of luck when you perform so well but lose in the final.”

The man of the moment was none other than the unstoppable Pardeep Narwal who finished the final game with a match-high 19 points, initiating super raids at important junctures to deflate Gujarat’s confidence. He had failed to perform twice previously against Gujarat but this time he was not to be thwarted. “If your defence wins you 22-23 matches, then that gives you confidence. But then coming to the end and failing, they are all human, not gods. Pardeep had failed against us in the first two matches but played very well today. You could say that Pardeep put on the pressure. But we did try to tackle Pardeep and managed to tackle him more than we tackled Monu [Goyat],” Manpreet concluded.