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Pro Kabaddi: Puneri Paltan Banking on Ashan Kumar’s Guidance to Find a Way Through the Playoffs

In each of the last three seasons of Pro Kabaddi, the Puneri Paltan’s have been considered as a title contender, but unfortunately for them they have not been able to deliver when it mattered the most. Two third place finishes and fourth place finish last season is testament to that.

News18 Sports

Updated:October 5, 2018, 8:36 PM IST
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Pro Kabaddi: Puneri Paltan Banking on Ashan Kumar’s Guidance to Find a Way Through the Playoffs
Puneri Paltan (Twitter)
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In each of the last three seasons of Pro Kabaddi, the Puneri Paltan’s have been considered as a title contender, but unfortunately for them they have not been able to deliver when it mattered the most. Two third place finishes and fourth place finish last season is testament to that.

In the sixth season as well, the Paltan have one of the stronger sides on paper and are likely to reach the play-offs once again.

"In the last three season we have played very well, but haven't been able to reach the final. Under the new coach, our main focus has been finding ways to avoid the mistakes that we have committed in the latter stages of the season. There's a lot of work that we have done to improve our performance in the playoffs and I am confident that we can finally lift the trophy this time," Girish Ernak, who was announced as the new captain of the franchise told Firstpost.

"We were not able to retain our lead in the second half of games last season. As a team, it is important for us to be able to slow down matches. The best teams do that effectively and we will be looking to do it more effectively," he added.

Coached by Ashan Kumar, the man who took South Korea to a Silver medal at the recently concluded Asian Games, the Paltan will look to ensure they don’t fail at the business end of the competition.

As a player, Kumar captained the Indian kabaddi team to gold medal in the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, where kabaddi was introduced for the first time.

The side has retained four players in Ernak, Sandeep Narwal, Rajesh Mondal and Gurunath More, and purchased the likes of all-rounder Monu, defender Rinku Narwal, raider Akshay Jadhav, defenders Ravi Kumar, Vikas Khatri and Vinod Kumar in the auctions. So the Puneri Paltan will more or less have the same team from last season.

Nitin Tomar replaced Deepak Niwas Hooda and Dharmaraj Cheralathan was let go. Among the raiders, Haryana Steelers’ Deepak Kumar Dahiya was brought in to give ace coach Kumar another option.

Pune’s biggest advantage lies in defense, where the quartet of Ernak-Sandeep (corners) and Ravi-Vinod (covers) stay together. Last season, they scored a whopping 271 tackle points and the continuity can only help them do better.

Mondal is one of the most clever raiders in the league and his ability in do-or-die raids is matched by very few in the competition. Having a specialist do-or-die raider in your camp is a big advantage and Pune have two in Mondal and More.

Sandeep and Tomar are among the best all-rounders in the mix and when the likes of Akshay Jadhav and Monu are thrown into the mix it gives the Paltan a very competent set of all-rounders to work with. There is also a perfect blend of youth and experience in the team, making Pune a real force to be reckoned with.

"Tomar is the best all-rounder in India. His offensive and defensive skills are second to none and he plays with a lot of intelligence. There are many all-rounders in the team that look up to him and I feel he is the perfect mentor to them on and off the pitch," coach Kumar suggested.

Ernak will be captaining for the first time in the PKL, but Kumar feels a combination of factors make him the ideal leader for the team. The Maharashtrian who made his national team debut earlier this year feels he has the tools to be a successful captain.

"I have captained before in nationals and industrial nationals so I have prior experience of the responsibility. In the PKL, I have learnt so much about the job playing under Rakesh Kumar and Nilesh Shinde, that I know when to slow the game, how to do it, when to motivate the players and how to control the team. I am relishing the prospect of captaining Puneri Paltan," Ernak said with confidence.

The strong Paltan squad should make it to the final this season unless there is a late season slump as there are a few weaknesses in the squad. Coach Kumar decided to divide the preparation into three different phases, with the first being a 20-day fitness and endurance camp in Goa in August.

That was followed up by a skill development camp, where fitness remained a priority, before the final camp in Pune where the team is expected to work out their best combinations. The Paltan have a healthy mix of youth and experience which is complemented by good depth in the squad as they hope to last the rigors of the league.

In the three occasions that they made it to the knockouts, Pune have not been able to get past the Patna Pirates. Despite victories over the three-time champions in the league phase, Pardeep Narwal has played his best games against Lions from Pune. Although, the two teams are expected to cross swords just once in the group phase, the calibre of the teams means another encounter in the latter stages is on the cards.

The onus will be on Ernak and Co to find a way to keep tabs on Pardeep, if and when the two teams meet in the knockouts. "He is a special player. Whenever we face them, it's important for defenders to catch him early and hurt his confidence. We will find a strategy to stop him," Ernak said.

The Paltan should have enough to reach playoffs despite the tough competition in Zone A, but after that is when the real mental test begins.
| Edited by: Madhav Agarwal
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