On Saturday evening a new Pro Kabaddi champion will be crowned after Bengal Warriors conclude their battle with Dabang Delhi for the championship trophy.
Both the Warriors and Dabang are first-time finalists and for one of them, the season branded the toughest ever will end with their name at the top of the pile as the ones who took the big trophy home.
For Bengal Warriors, this could be a fitting finale for their consistency over the last three seasons, starting season 5, which is when the league expanded to 12 teams.
Along with U.P. Yoddha, Bengal Warriors are the only side to have made it to the Playoffs in each of the last three seasons, a remarkable mark of consistency and they have done it across different formats. Seasons 5 and 6 had the two-zone system whereas season 7 has seen a round-robin phase with all 12 teams in a single pool facing each other.
The Warriors also have the unique distinction of being the only team this season to remain unbeaten against table toppers and their opponents in the final, Dabang Delhi, in the league phase this season.
For all the hyperbole about a few chosen stars that the league chose to promote, the all-round collective of Bengal Warriors has seen them leap over some of the other star-dominated teams to put themselves in with a shout of winning the championship.
A top-notch raiding unit with depth
In Maninder Singh, the Warriors have one of the top raiders in the league. He was also the captain this season and he did his bit with 205 raid points to his name.
But the Warriors aren’t just about their main raider; boasting one of the best raiding units in the league with solid depth, the Warriors average 21.4 raid points per game this season, the third-highest among all teams, behind only fellow finalists Delhi and the Bengaluru Bulls.
The Warriors have had as many as five raiders – Prapanjan, Mohammad Nabibakhsh, Rakesh Narwal, Sourabh Patil and Maninder – score Super 10s, a feat that only two other teams have achieved this season. They are also one of only two teams (along with Haryana Steelers) to have three raiders score in excess of 75 raid points this season.
They have excellent variety as well – Maninder and Nabibakhsh are right-raiders while Sukesh Hegde and Prapanjan are left-raiders.
Maninder, in fact, has missed their last three games including the semi-final win over U Mumba, after injuring his shoulder in a league match against Dabang Delhi towards the end of the season. Despite his absence though, the team ended up winning all three games averaging a minimum of 20 raid points in each of these games.
The share of raid points this season hasn’t entirely depended on Maninder; while he has contributed 42% of the team’s raid points, the support raiders in Prapanjan, Nabibakhsh and Sukesh combined have contributed 49%.
While Maninder has been the top raider in a match 10 times this season, other raiders combined have been the top raiders in the 13 other matches, a true illustration of their depth.
The team also leads the way in Super Raids (14), more than any other team this season. Only 5 of these have come from Maninder with Prapanjan (4), Nabibakhsh and Sukesh (3 each) all contributing, showing again why they have been so tough to beat.
Great picks at the auction
A lot of credit must also go the way the squad was put together at the auction. While they retained Maninder, they let go of Surjeet Singh, their lead defender as well as captain of the last two seasons. They also let go of Ran Singh. Oddly enough, if there has been one glaring weakness in the team, it has been that Right Cover position vacated by Surjeet.
But the positives outshine the negatives – they decided to embrace youth and gave the corner positions to two raw, but players with potential in Baldev Singh and Rinku Narwal and they have both delivered. Both have scored in excess of 60 tackle points (Baldev – 64, Rinku – 62), making the Warriors one of only two teams (with U.P. Yoddha) to have two defenders scoring in excess of 60 tackle points.
Season 7 has been a career-best season for both Rinku and Baldev.
The selection of Iran’s Nabibakhsh, a certified all-rounder, shelling out 77 lakhs for him at the auction has also shown itself to be a prudent move. Pro Kabaddi franchises haven’t always been trusting of debutant foreigners, but it looks like the Warriors had him well-scouted and knew what they were going for and aggressively went for him at the auctions.
The Iranian is the only player in season 7 to have a Super 10 as well as a High 5, a rare feat indeed.
The team also secured the services of the vastly experienced Jeeva Kumar, who has not been a key scoring defender as he used to be in earlier seasons, but is in charge of guiding the defence on the mat. The Tamil Nadu defender will be playing in his fourth Pro Kabaddi final, having won the title once before with U Mumba in season 2.
One of the best coaches in the league
While the Bengaluru Bulls lost in the semi-finals and with it the chance to retain their trophy, there is someone who could repeat as champion and that man is at the helm of affairs of the Bengal Warriors. Coach BC Ramesh was with the Bulls last season as one of the main coaches and has been credited with some of the defensive tweaks that the Bengaluru franchise implemented last time out.
He has controlled the team beautifully and got the best out of all the players, inducting a team-first mentality and ensuring that no specific players have been favoured at the cost of the team’s success.
Leaders in All Outs
One of the keys to their success has been the number of All Outs they have inflicted on opposing teams. The 38 All Outs inflicted by them is 2nd best only to Delhi’s (39) while the 22 All Outs conceded is the least by any team.
Their Net All Outs (All Outs Inflicted – All Outs Conceded) of +16 is the joint-best among all teams (with Delhi).
Bengal’s rise to the top and entry into the final has been a good example of Pro Kabaddi’s evolution with teams figuring out that a single superstar is probably no longer good enough to guide a team to the ultimate glory. With some astute signings, great team building and well-defined roles, the Warriors have perhaps provided the road map for future success in this league which has grown more competitive with every passing season.
Bringing that title home on Saturday could well usher in a new era for the team and the league.