Pune the cultural capital of Maharashtra since medieval times and presently a thriving I-T hub, will play host to the fourth leg of the Season 3 of the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi. Will then ‘home advantage’ play any role in the resurrection of Puneri Paltan? If we have a look at the prevailing trend in the competition then Telugu Titans, Bengaluru Bulls and Bengal Warriors have had mixed fortunes at home. The home leg hasn’t favoured the Puneri Paltan in the two seasons gone by.
In the first they lost three of the four matches while winning against Dabang Delhi. Jaipur Pink Panthers inflicted the heaviest defeat against them by 27 points. Season 2 was also unkind to them. Yet again they beat Dabang Delhi and lost to U Mumba, Patna Pirates and Bengaluru Bulls at a time when the top four had already been decided.
This time however, they have rebuilt their team and the league is wide open and they have a good chance of making the cut for the knockout as their performance in the first three matches has been more than satisfactory despite losing two of the three matches. In fact they lost to Telugu Titans by a single point in a cliff-hanger and the margin of defeat against Bengal Warriors in a keen contest was just five points.
Delving on the home factor this season, Telugu Titans and Bengaluru Bulls have won two out of four and while this is being written the Bengal Warriors, who lost their third match to Patna Pirates, must be hoping to put it across Jaipur Pink Panthers in the evening to remain on course for a top four berth.
For Pune the home leg to conclude their first leg engagements begins with a tough test against the unbeaten Patna Pirates whom they have never beaten at home. It will be a keen contest because both the teams will be testing themselves in the absence of a couple of key players on either side tomorrow.
The visitors will definitely be searching for someone to fill in the shoes of all-rounder Sandeep Narwal and the effervescent raider Rohit Kumar. Both were responsible in plotting the downfall of Bengal Warriors in a memorable encounter on Tuesday night.
Puneri Paltan who will have to play the most number of matches, four to be precise in the absence of all-rounder Deepak Hooda and midfielder Surjeet, will be partially relieved that the Patna duo will not be there to bother them. The rival attack will lack the sting and their right corner won’t be a forbidden territory for the Pune raiders as there won’t be the bruising tackles from Sandeep. So Puneri Paltan has a distinct advantage.
Patna Pirates too will be happy not to face the guiles of Deepak Hooda but they will have to contend with the towering Manjit Chhillar, easily the best player in the league. Though termed as an all-rounder he is no less than an Anup Kumar or a Meraj Sheykh when it comes to raiding or defending. So gifted is this man with the ‘stern look’ that attackers fear to tread into the zone where he positions himself in defence, depending on who the rival attacker is.
He is a great leader who does his job by example. Patna too has a veteran in Manpreet leading them this season but he isn’t the same player who did the job of a raider with strength and finesse a few years ago. His presence on the field though will be handy. The raiders Pradeep Narwal and Rajesh Mondal the do-or-die specialist will have to work overtime to take the fight to the enemy camp.
In defence Sunil and newcomer Vinod Kumar have surely shown promise but the duo is error-prone and Puneri Paltan will certainly exploit that chink. Former India captain and Puneri Paltan coach Ashok Shinde is a shrewd student of the game and trust him to utilise the opponents’ deficiencies to his advantage.
Ashok’s main hatchet man will be the temperamental Ajay Thakur. If he can land those early blows on the not so firm Patna Pirates defence then the home team’s job may become easy. Both Ashok and Manjit will expect Yogesh Hudda to perform better as the latter had done the job well last year before an injury forced him to take the backseat.
All in all the only match of the day tomorrow promises to be an interesting one and will set the trend for the Puneri Paltans’ remaining matches against Jaipur Pink Panthers, U Mumba and Bengaluru Bulls. All of them will be tough despite the defending champions Mumbai being the most depleted side as four of their top players will be on national duty in the South Asian Games.