Prime Volleyball League: Last-minute entrants Kolkata Thunderbolts look to extend dominance
Pawan Patodia and Vineet Bhandhari, the co-owners the Kolkata Thunderbolts, were flat-out denied the franchise at first by PVL organisers.
Rajasthan Royals, Jaipur Pink Panthers, and Atletico de Kolkata have all earned a special place in Indian sporting history by winning the inaugural title in their respective sporting leagues.
The latest name to have joined this illustrious list is Prime Volleyball League's (PVL) Kolkata Thunderbolts, who won the league's inaugural edition last year.
Building a new team from scratch and winning usually requires months' worth of meticulous planning and execution. But, not for the Thunderbolts.
In fact, they were one of the last-minute entrants into the inaugural season of the Prime Volleyball League and surprised many with their title-winning run last year.
Mr. Pawan Patodia, the co-owner and chairman of the Kolkata Thunderbolts, was flat-out denied the franchise at first when he frantically flew to Delhi late on a day for what, for him, was an investment and opportunity to give back to society in an upcoming league.
The veteran entrepreneur, however, 'managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat' over the next 30 minutes before the owners eventually relented and welcomed him into the league.
"It all started with a simple meeting," tells Sumedh Patodia to The Bridge.
"Like they (Pawan and co-owner Vineet Bhandhari) took a flight down to Delhi and attended a meeting in which they were absolutely flat out denied the franchise because it was too late in the day. They managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and convince the organisers in the next 30 minutes to actually, you know, let us in," chuckles Sumedh, the Thunderbolts team director and son of Pawan Patodia.
While the Patodias along with co-owner Vineet Bhandari managed to sneak a team into their pockets at the very last moment, their actual challenge was yet to begin.
Being engrossed in the more important tasks of finalising a name for the team along with the logo and jersey, they were virtually left with no time to prepare for the player auction.
Acing the auction with a tinge of luck
This is where Sumedh Patodia's academic background came in handy. He was studying at the prestigious IIM Ahmedabad then and he fell back on one of his professors to bail him out just a day before the auction.
"He (Professor Diptesh Ghosh) has had a very illustrious academic career and I have done fairly decent for myself as well. So we just came up with a nice fancy Excel software and everything, like at least we'll get to know that who's bidding on what and you know, what are the analytics looking like…," reveals Sumedh.
Though they were completely unprepared, lady luck was certainly on their side during the auction.
"We completely winged it on that one and we got super lucky because we literally won Ashwal Rai in a lucky draw. This is not even a figure of speech," he screams.
"And Vinit Kumar was like an apple falling into our lap, and the way the two of them let the team to victory last year was nothing short of incredible," Sumedh beams with pride.
Ashwal Rai and Vinit Kumar are probably two of the biggest names in Indian volleyball currently. While the former led the Thunderbolts from the front as the captain, the latter was named the Most Valuable Player in the inaugural season.
All this, however, is a part of history now.
Tougher road ahead in PVL 2023
For now, the Kolkata Thunderbolts have a new challenge in hand as they play the PVL 2023 opener against Bengaluru Torpedoes on Saturday.
Luck is not going to favour them this time around, with all the franchises coming into the season with a much better understanding of how the sport works.
"I think the prime difference between the last season and this season is that everybody understands the sport and the league structure better. The teams are better prepared now in the absence of a bio-bubble. Last year everything was a bit restricted – even the team bonding sessions, due to the fear of Covid-19. It is different this time. Expect the competition to be a lot stiffer this season," states Sumedh.
The senior Patodia, however, maintains that winning is not his sole priority. For him, there is a lot more to achieve for the betterment of volleyball in the country via this champion team.
"You cannot always win and defend the title. You might lose a few, but that should not hold you back," Pawan Patodia says.
"This time our team has players and staff from across 13 different Indian states. Traditionally volleyball in India is limited to the five southern states, but we have made a conscious effort to get in players from across India in our team. Why would someone from Punjab or Assam watch the league, if they have virtually no representation," he adds.
Thunderbolts go 'Chak de India' style
Managing such a diverse team comes with its own set of challenges, but the Kolkata Thunderbolts have gone the 'Chak de India' style.
"We have gone full 'Chak De India' style and ensured players from different states are living together, staying together. We are trying to break the geographical and language barrier," says Sumedh.
The Thunderbolts had even extended their pre-season camp by more than a week to help the players bond better and work together as a unit.
Captain Ashwal Rai has also taken a more pro-active role this time around and has been having one-on-one sessions with the team's youngsters, as Kolkata Thunderbolts look to extend their dominance in the Prime Volleyball League.