Naveen “Express” was in full flow in the first week of the tournament.
The Flying kicks, deceiving dubkis, and iron-clad ankle holds are back. Week 1 of Pro Kabaddi League Season 8, kickstarting again after a 20-month pandemic-forced hiatus, showed once again why the sport is considered the pinnacle of human athleticism and strength with closely fought matches.
Dabang Delhi K.C’s star raider Naveen Kumar often touted as the future of Kabaddi, proved his 2019 season was no fluke, with scintillating performances including a 24-point showing against defending champions Bengal Warriors. With four Super 10s in as many matches, Naveen has looked the most “complete raider” in the Pro Kabaddi League which has also helped Dabang Delhi K.C. establish themselves as early-season favourites.
However, it has not been rosy for all the raiders. The likes of “record-breaker” Pardeep Narwal, who switched to U.P. Yoddha, and Puneri Paltan’s Rahul Chaudhari, have looked off-colour in the early stages. Puneri Paltan finds themselves at the bottom of the table. Southern teams Tamil Thaliavas and Telugu Titans have shown sparks of their potential but have failed to convert them into points which is why they remain in the bottom half.
Here are five major talking points from Week 1 of Pro Kabaddi League Season 8:
1) The champions DNA
If early trends are anything to go by, Season 8 will be dominated by former champions. After week 1, with all teams having played three matches each, the top 6 on the table featured 5 former champions. Dabang Delhi K.C., Season 7 finalists and arguably the most complete team in the ongoing season, were the only side to have not won the trophy.
Patna Pirates, despite losing Pardeep Narwal in the auctions to U.P. Yoddha, have worked together as a unit with defenders Mohammedreza Chiyaneh and Sajin C complimenting the raiding unit. Bengal Warriors, despite suffering a demoralising loss against Delhi, look a complete team under captain Maninder Singh. The trio of Jaipur Pink Panther, Bengaluru Bulls and U Mumba will still need to iron out the mistakes in them to sustain the pressure at the top.
2) Naveen Kumar and Pawan Sehrawat have a new rival
Naveen Kumar has taken an early lead in the race for most raid points in the season. The Delhi raider has 68 points in his four matches including three Super 10s. But giving him a chase this season is Jaipur’s Arjun Deshwal. The raider has matched Naveen with three Super 10s (a total of 39 points) and is also the best Do-or-Die raider with 13 conversions.
Despite a slow start to the season, Bengaluru Bulls captain Pawan Sehrawat is the third on the table for raid points with 36. Pawan is famous for his multi-point raids. He will be vital in the Bulls’ plan to clinch the title once again after Season 6.
3) Surender Nada is back
Haryana Steelers had a poor opening to the season (2 loses and 1 win) but their defenders were certainly not at fault. Surender Nada, featuring in Pro Kabaddi League again after a two-year break forced by an injury, showed he hasn’t forgotten his strong ankle and back holds. With 13 points he is leading the pack for most tackle points and Super Tackles.
Patna’s Mohammedreza Chiyaneh has 12 points too with dominating performances in the left-cover positions while Surender Nada’s Haryana teammate Jaideep has 11. It is still early to read patterns in the unpredictable sport of Kabaddi but Haryana seems to have gotten themselves an incredible defence in Season 8. Gujarat’s left cover Girish Maruti Ernak has also made a significant impact on his new team
4) Young stars emerge
Pro Kabaddi League has always been a platform for new stars to emerge in the sport and Season 8 has already seen a few glittery performances. Arjun Deshwal’s emergence as a top raider after a secondary role with U Mumba in 2019 has been one such story. The raider’s ability to perform in Do-or-Die situations make him a great athlete to compliment the experienced Deepak Hooda in Jaipur’s line-up.
Haryana’s Jaideep has been outstanding in the defence, outperforming a lot of seniors in the early stages. He has two High 5s to his name and will be hoping to be the difference-maker for the Steelers.
Puneri Paltan have found it difficult to get going with Rahul Chaudhari struggling and Nitin Tomar out with an injury. But in Aslam Inamdar, they have found an aggressive all-rounder who seems to have the makings of a future Kabaddi star. He will be integral to coach Anup Kumar’s plans in the coming weeks.
5) Ties and last minute wins
Kabaddi is a sport that offers end to end action throughout the 40 minutes. The three ties and multiple last-raid wins in week 1 have been a testimonial to Pro Kabaddi League’s true spirit. The best of the lot was U.P Yoddha’s last-raid win against Patna Pirates courtesy of a bonus point picked up by Surender Nada. The Pirates thought they had their man when they tackled him successfully but the one bonus point proved crucial as Yoddha won 36-35. The bulls’ 36-35 win against defending champions Bengal Warriors also came via a last-minute raid by Pawan Sehrawat.
Delhi’s match against Gujarat Giants ended in a 24-24 tie while Tamil Thaliavas were held to ties by both U Mumba (30-30) and Telugu Titans (40-40).