Ahead of the fifth season of VIVO Pro Kabaddi, U Mumba head coach Edachery Bhaskaran is confident about his side’s chances of reclaiming the title they won in Season 2. Bhaskaran, who put his charges through pre-season high-altitude training in Dehradun recently, claims that the presence of top-quality raiders like Anup Kumar, Kashiling Adake, Shabeer Bappu and Nitin Mandane in his squad will prompt U Mumba’s defence to be braver with their tackles.

"The morale of the defence is always high when the raiders are strong. We have four strong raiders who will allow the defence to take risks and go for the kill during each of the opponent's raid. I feel every team this season has good raiders, including us. We worked on a strategy and managed to achieve exactly what we wanted in the auction," said the former two-time Asian Games winning national coach.

Bhaskaran also offered some insight into the composition of the squad. “From the 136 players that were part of the New Young Players' (NYP) Camp this year, the three we selected are in the top 20. We chose defenders because we always need back-up for defence, especially for such a long season. They are very energetic, have played in the junior, senior nationals as well as the Federation Cup, so they come with some experience under their belt,” he said.

When asked that among experienced players who he thought would prove to be the team’s main man this season, he said: "Barring Anup and Shabeer, all the remaining players are new to the team. Joginder (Narwal) and Suresh (Kumar) come with a lot of experience. Kuldeep is an excellent all-rounder who can destroy a raider. Hadi (Oshtorak) as a corner is also very strong.

“So, I can't really comment on who is the strongest as each of them comes with a strong, different skill set. We will definitely benefit from being amongst the most successful teams in the league. U Mumba are known for their player selection, training, team management and overall functioning."

Having been at the helm since U Mumba’s title-winning season, Bhaskaran showed his faith in skipper Anup to lead U Mumba once again this year despite missing out on the semis under his captaincy last year. "Anup has led the team ever since U Mumba came into existence. He has a very different reputation among the teams and players, he is an iconic figure in international kabaddi now. His nickname, 'Captain Cool', also describes how well he copes with pressure and is calm and collective in even the most stressful of situations on the mat,” he said.

"He leads the team exceedingly well. Other than that, he has also been a great raider through the seasons which is an added advantage for us. Having a good captain is very important especially when the players keep changing due to auctions. Given his experience, he plays a key role in grooming the youngsters in our side as well,” he added.

When asked how the players will cope with an extended season, set to feature 138 matches over 13 weeks, Bhaskaran said: "Yes, the season is longer but the good thing is that the recovery period after each match has also significantly increased so it works well. There is time to recover and then concentrate on training again. Our 20-day fitness camp held in Dehradun was precisely for this reason too. We wanted to ensure that the players are physically fit to go through this long season. Choosing a high-altitude destination was also to build their stamina and increase endurance for the league."