Picture this: a team of men’s kabaddi players, clad in their matchday fits, belting out their rendition of “so beautiful, so elegant, just looking like a wow!” while looking at a gleaming trophy.
Well, that’s exactly what three-time champions Patna Pirates did to tell all of us that they are out to win title #4 when the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL 10) gets underway on December 2.
The 10th edition of the biggest kabaddi league in the globe begins with Fazel Atrachali’s Gujarat Giants taking on Pawan Sehrawat’s Telugu Titans in Ahmedabad.
So, what’s the storyline this time around?
The players come into PKL 10 after the Asian Games, where India beat Iran to the gold medal in a feisty final. However, that won’t matter for the next three months as teammates will become opponents and vice versa over the next 137 games.
How are the 12 teams placed?
Reigning champions Jaipur Pink Panthers have retained their core in their bid for a title defence, Puneri Paltan – now with Mohammadreza Shadlou – look the most likely challengers and serial wooden-spoon contenders Telugu Titans will hope Pawan’s arrival can bring about a wind of change.
U Mumba have made some clever overseas signings [three Iranians, including the coach]Bengaluru Bulls will aim to “full charge maadi” and Pardeep Narwal will continue his quest to win the PKL title with UP Yoddhas.
Fresh from their best-ever run last year, the sprightly Tamil Thalaivas unit will look to go the distance in PKL 10, while a similarly young team in Dabang Delhi will yearn to brush off last season’s disappointment. Siddharth ‘Baahubali' With skirt crorepati once again, will be vital in Haryana Steelers’ campaign as will PKL’s Mr. Consistent Maninder Singhwho was bought back by the Bengal Warriors by using their FBM card.
Gujarat Giants’ fortunes rest on Fazel’s captaincy and Mohammed Esmaeil Nabibakhsh’s all-around abilities, while Patna Pirates will bank on Sachin Tanwar to get that fourth star on their crest.
We heard there was some mind-numbing money spent at the auctions…
If you thought last season’s auctions were big money, boy were you in for a surprise.
Teams shattered records for fun this time around, crores of ₹ were spent and no prizes for guessing…Pawan attracted the biggest bid yet again. Telugu Titans got their target man for ₹2.605 crore, while Puneri Paltan dug into their coffers to rope in Shadlou for a staggering fee of ₹2.31 crore for the Iranian.
Three players went past the ₹2 crore mark as Maninder went back to Bengal Warriors for ₹2.12 crore. Gujarat Giants joined the party when they splurged ₹1.6 crore for Fazel and Haryana Steelers brought in Siddharth Desai for ₹1 crore.
Any of these players who could make an instant impact?
The player with the toughest task amongst the above-mentioned five has to be Pawan, who will be working with a fairly young squad. Telugu Titans have never made it past the group stages since season four and Pawan has asserted that a playoff appearance is the bare minimum for them this season. Pawan had a similar challenge with Tamil Thalaivas last season and his support, albeit off the mat, saw them reach a point they had never before. Can he do the same, on the mat, this side for the Titans?
Shadlou joins an exciting and spirited Puneri Paltan squad that just fell short of the title in PKL 9. He has the likes of Aslam Inamdar and Mohit Goyat for company and should do just fine.
While Siddharth needs a big season and will shoulder the Steelers’ raiding duties, nothing changes for Maninder as he goes back to the Warriors. If Fazel’s track record is anything to go by, you know what the seasoned Iranian is capable of. We saw that with Puneri Paltan last year and will see it again with Gujarat Giants this time around.
Who are the other players who will want to make an impact?
The likes of Pardeep Narwal and Rahul Chaudhari, who were not part of India’s Asian Games squad, will be hungry to make a statement in PKL 10. Pardeep was part of the Indian camp but did not make the final 12-member team, while Rahul was not part of the camp.
Some of the other top performers from last year such as Jaipur Pink Panthers' Ankush Rathee [PKL9’s best defender] and Tamil Thalaivas' Narender Khandola [PKL9’s best debut raider] did not make their senior team debuts either and will be keen to stake claim for a spot with the big boys.
Along with them, the likes of Bharat Hooda [Bengaluru Bulls],Parteek Dahiya [Gujarat Giants]Manjeet [Patna Pirates] and Sagar Rathee [Tamil Thalaivas] will all look to announce, if not solidify their names, as the top kabaddi talents in the country.
Are there any new foreigners to watch out for?
Quite a few fresh faces this time around when it comes to the overseas players. Bengaluru Bulls have a Polish raider in Piotr Pamulak, who is a proper muscleman and also plays American football. Then we have the two English players in Dabang Delhi – Yuvraj Pandeya and Felix Li – both of whom play as defenders on the right.
Then there’s Bengal Warriors’ Zheng-Wei Chen, who played a pivotal role in Chinese Taipei’s bronze medal at the Asian Games. Speaking of the Asian Games, U Mumba have two very capable Iranian youngsters – Amirmohammad Zafardanesh and Alireza Mirzaeian – who can raid and defend just as well.
You were saying something about an Iranian coach…
Oh yes, U Mumba have signed Iranian coach Gholamreza Mazandarani. He was the mastermind behind the Iranian men’s 2018 Asian Games gold and also led them to silver this time around. He has previously coached U Mumba and Telugu Titans in the PKL.
Speaking of coaching changes…Dabang Delhi will miss the services of their long-standing coach Krishan Kumar Hooda, who has been replaced by Rambir Singh Khokhar. Oh, and former Dabang Delhi captain Joginder Narwal has joined as the assistant coach.
Telugu Titans will also have a new coach, albeit a familiar face, in Srinivas Reddy. He had worked with the Titans in PKL 4 and was then with Jaipur Pink Panthers in PKL 8. Patna Pirates, PKL’s most successful team, will also have new faces in the coaching department as Narender Kumar Redhu has been named the head coach and he will be assisted by former U Mumba coach Anil Chaprana.
Oh, and the caravan format is back?
PKL 10 goes back to the caravan format after two years – PKL 8 was played in a bio-bubble in Bengaluru due to the coronavirus pandemic and PKL 9 was held across Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad and Mumbai.
The return of the caravan format means the league will travel to the home cities of each of the 12 teams: beginning in Gujarat Giants’ home at Ahmedabad to the league stage ending in Haryana Steelers’ host city of Panchkula.