Pune, February 12: Who wins the Maharashtra derby on Saturday at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex will be the foremost question in the mind of Kabaddi lovers in the state which was at the forefront of the Kabaddi revolution in the 1950s and 60s. Once a super power at the national level, the state has yielded ground to Haryana and Punjab. But now, Star Sports Pro Kabaddi is being seen by die-hard followers of the game as a means to usher in a revival for the sport in Mumbai and Pune, the major centres for Kabaddi.
The clash between U Mumba and Puneri Paltan on Saturday has a lot of significance. Puneri Paltan is in seventh spot with 10 and a win against Jaipur Pink Panthers will swell their tally over 20 points in the first leg to pursue their dreams of a play-off berth. U Mumba has the same objective. They have three wins in five matches and with 15 points, they will be looking to win this well.
The hosts succeeded the other day in holding league leaders Patna Pirates to a creditable 30-30 draw and if they topple an out of sorts former champions Jaipur Pink Panthers they will have a big psychological advantage facing U Mumba the defending champions on the morrow. However, Puneri Paltan is still grappling with a few problems.
Manjeet Chhillar, their captain became a prey to the deft hand touches of the quick moving Pardeep Narwal of Patna Pirates and the Pune side should feel lucky as that didn’t result in a defeat. U Mumba coach E Bhaskaran surely must have noticed this. Can Rishank Devadiga and Shabeer Bapu Sharfudeen their frontline raiders exploit this chink?
Manjeet is a versatile player who likes to change places in defence according to the line of attack of the rival raiders and he will do so again. This is where Bhaskaran’s analytical skills will be tested. Similarly, the master strategist, Ashok Shinde will have to utilise his resources wisely. He can ill-afford not to have Manjeet off the court for long periods. Manjeet has to be selective while attempting tackles and also not get trapped on the other side of the court.
The same applies to Rishank and Shabeer. Both are game changers though the latter is not in prime form and condition. But, Bhaskaran has to curb the former’s adventurous nature to gain points especially during the do-or-die raids. The Mumbai coach also has to ensure that veteran Rakesh Kumar, a good reader of the game stays put for most part of the match. He has to use him judiciously in attack and ask him to avoid those impulsive tackles which may prove costly.
As far as the two defences are concerned, Pune seem a bit unstable. Prashant Chavan, their acquisition from Jaipur Pink Panthers has done nothing of note and Somvir Shekhar and Jasmer have been just average. U Mumba has the battle scarred Jeeva Kumar and Fazel Atrachali, the Iranian who showed glimpses of his potential in that crucial win against Bengaluru Bulls.
U Mumba’s other main concern will be finding a third raider. Bhupinder was superb last year but he and K Prapanjan haven’t been sharp enough yet. Pune seem to have found a man in Surendra Singh who did a decent job against Patna Pirates. But one thing baffles the die-hard fan most. Why is the coach naming foreigners Simon Kibura and David Mosambayi as substitutes and not playing them? Why Sachin Khambe is not even named on the list? Naming two players who are unlikely to play defies logic!
Jaipur Pink Panthers and Telugu Titans will be playing their last league game of the first leg and they will try to end on a winning note. The latter has three wins and three losses from six which gives them a tally of 17 points and the Jaipur Pink Panthers have 11 points before they take on the hosts. A win against the hosts will make the task of the Southern side a bit difficult. If not, then the Telugu Titans can hope to win and finish with a tally of 23 points that will keep them in the hunt for a semi-final slot.
Sonu Narwal, Rajesh Narwal will be the key players for Jaipur Pink Panthers and if the injured Jasvir is fit then they can pose problems to the rivals. The Telugu Titans are a good side in attack but they will be minus Rahul Chaudhari and Sukesh Hegde who are game changers and integral to the team. It appears that the Jaipur side may benefit due to that.