It was a day Jaipur Pink Panthers fans will remember for a long time. After finishing at the top of the league table and making short work of Patna Pirates in the semi-final, Bollywood superstar Abhishek Bachchan’s Pink Panthers handed U Mumba a 35-24 defeat in the final to claim the first VIVO Pro Kabaddi title in the history of the league.
They had raised the bar when it came to the sport of kabaddi as the attacking combination of Jasvir Singh and Maninder Singh, along with stalwarts like Ran Singh and Rohit Rana in defence, wreaked havoc on the opposition. Captain Navneet Gautam, too, was fast becoming a legend of the game after his exploits in the league and at the international stage.
The next two seasons, though, were full of disappointment for the men in pink as they failed to even make the semi-finals on both occasions. They finished fifth in Season 2 and then slipped another place in the next season to finish sixth on the leader board. The team sorely missed the services of both their senior raiders and weren’t able to make much of an impact on the league at all.
However, for the Jaipur Pink Panthers, giving it your all on the field is much more important than the result of the match as owner Abhishek Bachchan explained in a post-match press conference during Season 5.
“At the end of the day it is a sport and I tell all my teams, be it football or kabaddi, that winning or losing is a part of the game,” he said, “Even if you lose, make sure you have given your best out on the mat.”
The team did go on to give their best in the fourth season and reached the final, riding on the experience of Jasvir Singh and all-rounder Rajesh Narwal. Unfortunately, that was when the phenomenon called Pardeep Narwal was in full flow with the raider taking Patna Pirates to easy 37-29 victory. But the pride of the Pink Panthers had been restored and the team was looking forward to capitalising on that in the next campaign.
Unfortunately, Season 5 was marred by injuries for Jaipur as a number of key players like Manjeet Chhillar and Selvamani K were out for a large part of the season due to fitness issues. They relied heavily on their younger players like Pawan Kumar and Nitin Rawal, who tried their best but couldn’t take the team to the playoffs. The team suffered a disastrous home leg and finished fifth in their Zone, with just eight victories from 22 matches.
It was also an emotional season for the Pink Panthers fans as their beloved Navneet Gautam bid farewell to the sport in front of the team’s home crowd. It was the end of an era and the stalwart led the team onto the mat one final time to thunderous applause. However, the legend who took Jaipur to their first title win had to finish his career with a loss as the team looked only a shadow of their former selves.
But despite their recent slump in form, the Jaipur Pink Panthers will always be remembered as the first team to win the coveted VIVO Pro Kabaddi crown and if their history is anything to go by, they will be raring to get back to their winning ways soon.