After an initial setback, Puneri Paltan unleashed their all-round prowess to snatch the match from U.P. Yoddha with a narrow 40-38 victory at Dome@NSCI SVP Stadium in Mumbai on Monday. Deepak Hooda led the charge with his Super 10 display, aided ably by Girish Maruti Ernak (7 points) and Akshay Jadhav (6 points). They will now meet the winners of Eliminator 2 to fight for a spot in Qualifier 2.
Season 5’s first knock-out encounter started brilliantly with the Yoddha taking Pune off-guard from the very outset. The defence and offence combined to deal four consecutive blows on Pune and take a 5-0 lead. However, Pune fought back through youngster Jadhav, whose bonus and super tackle in quick succession put the first points on the board. But Rishank Devadiga showcased his brilliance again to pull off a super raid which handed Pune their first All-Out of the match in the 6th minute for a 10-3 lead. Thereafter, Hooda took the initiative to lead Pune’s fightback, and with another Jadhav super tackle they completed the first quarter trailing 8-14.
In the second quarter, Pune kept their spirits high to forge a comeback. With both Nitin Tomar and Devadiga off the mat, the Yoddha changed their strategy to attack only during do-or-die raids and slow down the pace. But Hooda’s consecutive successful raids inflicted the first All-Out on the Yoddha in the 18th minute to take a one-point lead for the first time in the game. The first half ended tied at 18-18.
Pune continued their spirited fightback into the second half with skipper Hooda leading from the front. The Yoddha defence seemed to break in front of his raiding prowess as he kept on picking up raid points at will to inflict another All-Out in the 24th minute for a massive 27-19 lead. Soon, Hooda picked up his Super 10, while Ernak and Jadhav picked up their High 5s. Devadiga, however, continued pushing his team forward and completed his Super 10 shortly after.
Both the teams entered the last quarter with 11 points separating the two. With 10 minutes remaining on the clock for the Yoddha to save themselves, they upped their game. They managed to keep Hooda off the court and led the attack through the in-form Devadiga. Their strategy worked as they handed Pune their second All-Out in the 36th minute to bring the scoreline closer at 31-34. None wanted to let the match slip away with a single point keeping Pune ahead with just seconds remaining on the clock. Mahesh Goud went in for the last raid but Sandeep Narwal proved his finesse with a solid block to gift Pune a slender but dramatic 40-38 win.
Check out our snapshots from this match here.