These players were a rock at the back in the previous edition.
The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) Season 7 witnessed several defenders leave their mark in the tournament. Despite raiders getting more of the limelight, it is the team’s defenders who help build a strong defensive unit which is equally crucial to a team’s success.
Over the seasons, U Mumba has been the team with the most tackle points recorded. Whereas, Puneri Paltan notched up the most tackle points in the latest edition. Some experienced players along with other new faces made their presence felt at the back in PKL 2019.
We take a look at the top five defenders of season 7:
5. Baldev Singh
Baldev Singh has quickly become one of the top defenders in the league. The boy from Dabhota in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh was scouted by Bengal Warriors ahead of season 6. He picked up 28 points in 18 matches in his debut campaign. He immediately caught the eye and later that year made his national team debut in the South Asian Championships in Kathmandu. Singh came back home with the winner’s medal.
The following season he was retained by the Bengal Warriors. The team had retained their faith in him and Singh didn’t disappoint. He became a crucial member of the team and was ever-present in the right corner. Baldev Singh picked up 67 tackle points in 24 matches in PKL 7, guiding the Bengal Warriors to their maiden league title.
4. Sandeep Kumar Dhull
Sandeep Kumar Dhull first appeared in season 3 donning the colours of Dabang Delhi K.C. His six super tackles were the most by any player that season. Dhull continued to make steady progress in season 4, this time for the Telugu Titans. However, having been not retained again, he missed the following season.
Dhull made his comeback in season 6, after being snapped up by the Jaipur Pink Panthers. This time he showed his true worth by becoming the second-highest scoring left corner defender in the league. He enjoyed a stellar campaign and cemented his place in the side. Since then, Dhull has become a standout performer in the Jaipur Pink Panthers squad.
His brute strength and textbook tackling technique enable him to perform his signature diving thigh hold move. He surprises the raider by diving at his thighs from a distance and grabs them to bring him to the ground. Owing to this, Sandeep Kumar Dhull has become a potent weapon in Super Tackle situations. Overall, he picked up 73 tackle points in 22 matches.
3. Nitesh Kumar
A product of the Future Kabaddi Heroes programme, Nitesh Kumar enjoyed a brilliant rookie campaign for the new franchise U.P. Yoddha in 2017. Born in Adampur Dadhi, a small village in the Bhiwani district of Haryana, Kumar created history in the following season. Surpassing several seasoned veterans, he was adjudged as the best defender in the league. However, what makes his achievement truly remarkable is the fact that this youngster became the first-ever defender to score a century of tackle points in a single PKL campaign.
Kumar has mastered the ankle hold move in which he grabs onto the raider’s ankle with tremendous grip and strength, often when he’s darting towards the mid-line. This forces the raider to go back and creates an opportunity for a tackle. Nitesh Kumar captained his team last season, picking up 75 tackle points in 23 matches.
Adampur Dadhi’s Sumit is Nitesh Kumar’s childhood friend. Sumit is also a part of the U.P. Yoddha squad. The small village in Haryana comes to a standstill whenever the team takes to the mat. While Nitesh could be seen playing in the right corner, Sumit ably guards the left corner. U.P. Yoddha has always relied on defensive discipline to win their games and in Sumit, they have found a true gem.
Last season, U.P. Yoddha finished third in the league stage, going onto reach the knockouts. The childhood chemistry between Sumit and Nitesh has been at the heart of their renaissance. In just his debut season, Sumit recorded the second-most tackle points in the league, finishing with 77 tackle points in just 22 matches. That is indeed a promising start to his PKL career!
1. Fazel Atrachali
The Iranian superstar is a nightmare for any raider. Fazel Atrachali has established himself as one of the greatest overseas players in the history of the league. He has won two league titles, first with U Mumba in season 2 and then with Patna Pirates in season 4. Atrachali joined the new franchise Gujarat Fortune Giants the following season but returned back to U Mumba the next year.
One of only two defenders to win multiple Best Defender awards, the 29-year-old is the first foreign defender to score 300 tackle points in the league. He is a player who displays a perfect balance between speed and patience, knowing exactly when to act and when to hold back.
Atrachali was a part of the Iran national team that had lost to India in the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup final. He then captained his nation to Asian Games glory in 2018. In the latest PKL campaign, the Iranian picked up 82 tackle points in 24 matches helping U Mumba to the semi-finals, before they succumbed to eventual champions Bengal Warriors.