A new season of Pro Kabaddi begins on 7 October, with defending champions Dabang Delhi set to take on U Mumba at the Shree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium in Bengaluru. Unlike last year, when the competition was restricted to a hotel convention centre in Bengaluru due to COVID 19-related restrictions, the league will be played out in three cities this year – Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad. Fans will also return to the stands for season 9.
The stage for season 9 of the league was set with a mega auction that concluded in August. More on that ahead. What can viewers and fans expect from this season? Lots of matches, to begin with. All 12 teams will be in action for the opening weekend of season 9.
Fans will also witness triple headers (three matches) every Friday and Saturday, through the league stages. As always, some key players and teams are at the centre of focus before the season begins. Here’s a look at some of them.
Will Pawan Sehrawat lift the Tamil Thalaivas?
The biggest bidding rally in the auction was for former Bengaluru Bulls star Pawan Sehrawat, who was picked up for a record ₹2.26 crore by Tamil Thalaivas. This massive bid made Sehrawat the most expensive player in Pro Kabaddi history. Last season, Sehrawat topped the total raid points leaderboard with 304 points in 24 matches. What makes Sehrawat special is that, despite being a raider, he does not shy away from putting in a strong tackle, making him an asset defensively. Sehrawat also holds the record for most raid points in a match, having scored 39 points in a match against Haryana Steelers in season 7.
A key factor behind his sparkling form was also his close relationship with Bengaluru coach Randhir Singh Sehrawat, under whose leadership the raider excelled in the last three seasons, including lifting the title in season 6. Coach Randhir Singh was visibly emotional during the auctions in August once it was clear that his treasured pupil will now wear the yellow of the Tamil Thalaivas. Therein lies the big question. How well will Pawan gel with a new team, a new coach? His equation with the squad – in particular fellow raider Ajinkya Pawar – and coach J Udayakumar could prove to be vital if the Tamil Thalaivas hope to win their maiden Pro Kabaddi title. If anything, Udayakumar will hope Pawan can inject some inspiration into a team which finished a dismal 11th in season 8.
Can Vikash Kandola deliver for the Bengaluru Bulls?
Sehrawat’s departure meant that Bengaluru Bulls lost their crown jewel. But in came Vikash Kandola, formerly of Haryana Steelers, as a like-for-like replacement for a massive bid of ₹1.70 crore.
Kandola brings a lot of quality, no doubt. According to the Pro Kabaddi website, Kandola put in 143 successful raids in season 8. He also has 597 total raid points next to his name. An exceptionally quick player, Kandola will also have the experience of coach Randhir Singh Sehrawat behind him. The rest of Bengaluru’s raiding department bears a youthful look, with the likes of Bharat (who goes by his first name) and Neeraj Narwal (bought from Dabang Delhi) in the squad. GB More is the other key raider in that team.
Bengaluru’s defence will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting this season. Crucially, the team has retained the services of left corner specialist Saurabh Nandal and veteran defender Mahender Singh – a combination that has worked very well for the Bengaluru team in the past.
But all eyes will be on Kandola. Expensive raiding replacements have rarely clicked in new teams across the last few seasons. Kandola and the Bulls will hope they can change that trend in season 9.
Will the Telugu Titans build on their strong squad?
If season 9 were to be competed on paper, the Telugu Titans would walk away victorious, given the depth and quality in their squad. Take a look. Abhishek Singh, Rajnish, Monu Goyat and Siddharth Desai – all accomplished raiders. Parvesh Bhainswal, Surjeet Singh, Ravinder Pahal and Vishal Bhardwaj in defence. To add to that, the experienced Iranian all-rounder Mohsen Maghsoudlou. This is a balanced squad with star names in every department.
What makes the situation more interesting is that some of these players have worked together in the past. Desai and Abhishek Singh, for instance, formed a potent raiding partnership for U Mumba in the past. If both these raiders can recreate that form, then the fortunes might finally change for the Telugu Titans, who finished last season at the bottom of the league table. Head coach Venkatesh Goud and assistant coach Manjeet Chhillar, an experienced former player, have their hands full ahead of season 9. Making this star-studded squad function like a well-oiled machine will be a tricky task.
How far will Dabang Delhi’s youthful side go?
Defending champions Dabang Delhi have opted for a young side heading into season 9. The biggest name on their team sheet is Naveen Kumar – the young raider who has carried the Delhi team on his shoulders over the last couple of seasons. Kumar finished season 8 with 207 raid points and was chosen as the league’s most valuable player last season for his spectacular performances, which led to Delhi winning their first Pro Kabaddi title.
Delhi spent heavily on defenders during the season 9 auctions: Sandeep Dhull was purchased for ₹40 lakh, right-cover specialist Ravi Kumar was bought for ₹64.10 lakh, among some other key deals. This Delhi team will clearly opt to build its new season around the defenders.
But, more importantly, will the loss of experience from season 8 affect Delhi in any way? Remember that last season, the team had the experienced heads of Ajay Thakur, Manjeet Chhillar, Jeeva Kumar and Joginder Narwal to go to in tricky situations. Narwal in particular will be a huge miss in the left corner position. The veteran defender has decided to move to the Haryana Steelers for season 9.