Turnaround of epic proportions

Thalaivas overcomes setbacks to qualify for Pro Kabaddi play-offs for the first time.
The Tamil Nadu team snapped the forgettable streak – of finishing either 11th or 12th in its first four seasons – on Wednesday when it booked a ticket to the top-six with a win over UP Yoddhas.
The Tamil Nadu team snapped the forgettable streak – of finishing either 11th or 12th in its first four seasons – on Wednesday when it booked a ticket to the top-six with a win over UP Yoddhas. Illustration by Saai

CHENNAI: Where do we even start? After suffering setbacks – which punctured the hopes of its ardent supporters – at different junctures during the Pro Kabaddi League Season 9 league stage, Tamil Thalaivas was just not meant to reach the play-offs.

But, defying all odds, Thalaivas scripted a spectacular turnaround under the guidance of head coach Ashan Kumar and brought tears of joy on the eyes of its fans by entering the play-offs for the first time in its five-year Pro Kabaddi history.

The Tamil Nadu team snapped the forgettable streak – of finishing either 11th or 12th in its first four seasons – on Wednesday when it booked a ticket to the top-six with a win over UP Yoddhas.

Such was the enviable form of Thalaivas that its players did not celebrate extravagantly even after etching their names in the history books – they knew that the team would clinch the point which was required to progress to the next round. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the way in which TT turned its fortunes around will be spoken for years to come.

After just 10 minutes in a season that spans a minimum of 880 minutes for every team, Thalaivas lost its talisman and captain Pawan Sehrawat, who the franchise believed would provide the cutting edge on the mat. Up stepped baby-faced assassin Narender, who took over the mantle of ‘lead raider’ and has been giving the experienced campaigners a run for their money with his smart attacking operation.

After a poor start to the season – the team secured only a solitary victory in its first six matches – the southern side parted ways with coach J Udaya Kumar. At that point, TT looked done and dusted, dead and buried. Nobody, including its fanatics, gave it a chance to progress to the next phase of the 12-team tournament.

But, the appointment of veteran coach Ashan Kumar turned out to be a masterstroke from the management. Ashan, a former Puneri Paltan and current Team India chief, did not tinker with the ‘Starting Seven’ at the start of his reign, but gave the players the necessary ingredients to excel. His tactics were spot on and his words during the strategic timeouts were a joy to listen to. I bet you that none of the Thalaivas fans will disagree.

“There was a time when our team was not doing well. From there to winning this match (referring to the contest against Yoddhas) and qualifying for the play-offs, is a huge deal. We are happy. The team is confident and motivated to do even better in the upcoming matches,” said Ashan at a recent press conference.

“We have made it to the play-offs. That is history in itself. I hope that this (the team’s run) will be an inspiration to all the up and coming players. ‘If you do not lose hope, if you keep training and giving your best, you will definitely succeed’,” added Ashan.

Just when it looked like Thalaivas would cruise to the play-offs, it lost its stand-in skipper and ace defender Sagar Rathee for the last five matches. Arpit Saroha rose to the occasion and has been a good replacement in the recent games. TT has overcome many setbacks and has only three hurdles in front of it.

RESULTS OF MATCHES ON SATURDAY: Tamil Thalaivas 38 lost to Haryana Steelers 61; Patna Pirates 49 bt Bengal Warriors 38; Bengaluru Bulls 30 lost to U Mumba 36

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