PUNE: Forced to miss out on witnessing lightning quick moves at close quarters for more than two seasons due to the Covid pandemic, the kabaddi enthusiasts of Pune turned out in their hordes, threatening to bring the roof down with their deafening noise and prolonged applause, on the first two days of the season nine of the Pro Kabaddi League here.
The very sight of fans making their presence felt made for compelling viewing for all the stakeholders of the sport especially considering how the previous season was played out behind closed doors.
Kabaddi is one sport that thrives on spectator support given their proximity to the players and there have been umpteen occasions in the past where a home team got over the finish line riding on the raucous cheering of its loyal fans in a contest that could have gone either way.
However, one aspect that stood out in the Pune-leg was how even ‘neutral’ teams luxuriated in the warmth and affection of the ‘home’ crowd. What added to the atmosphere was the fact that the drama on the mat was no less exciting with almost all the matches having the crowd on the edge of their seats with some even spotted chewing their fingernails unable to withstand the rising tension and growing anxiety. Some may have even had their BP checked after returning home with their adrenaline soaring to dangerous levels!
A case in point was the humdinger of a match between host and crowd-puller Puneri Paltan and Haryana Steelers that ended in a thrilling 27-27 tie on the opening day.
If there was one aspect that remained a constant all through the match, it was the active involvement of the sell-out crowd who rose to their feet as one following an exhilarating clash that hopefully will set the tone for what is to follow. The fact that their beloved team didn’t get all the five points didn’t dampen their enthusiasm one bit and they once again returned to the arena, the following day, in spades with the claps not subsiding and the noise never diminishing.
It’s as if the kabaddi juggernaut has brought the industrial hub of Pune to a screeching halt with all roads leading to the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex and that is no exaggeration.
The difference a packed house can make wasn’t lost on the participants either with Gujarat Giants coach Ram Mehar Singh thanking them for their unswerving support.
“Due to the pandemic, there was no crowd. When the fans are present in the stadium, their cheering helps because it motivates the players. I would like to thank the fans for coming in large numbers and cheering for the team. They have shown us a lot of love and they have supported everyone, not just their team but other teams as well. They love Kabaddi here,” Ram Mehar said.