Thalaivas up against Yoddhas in maiden PKL play-off appearance
MUMBAI: “Should we go in a car?” joked Puneri Paltan skipper and left corner Fazel Atrachali moments before taking the lift to the 38th floor of a posh hotel here, where the Pro Kabaddi League Season 9 play-offs press conference was hosted on Monday.
Representatives – captains/players and coaches – from five franchises who have made the cut for the top-six literally had to climb a mountain to fulfil their media commitments. But, Bengaluru Bulls skipper Mahender Singh and head coach Randhir Singh Sehrawat missed the presser altogether, thanks to the Mumbai traffic.
The tournament organiser waited patiently for about half-an-hour before deciding to leave an empty chair on the dais. Mahender, in particular, was severely impacted by the traffic congestion so much so that he could not even make it on time for the photo-op.
The Pro Kabaddi fanatics were left wondering on Monday evening, when the League’s social media handles posted a picture in which players from five playoff-bound teams posed with the ultimate prize that is up for grabs this week.
Six franchises – trimmed from the initial 12 after the conclusion of the double round-robin stage – will have a shot at the coveted title as the highly anticipated play-off action begins on Tuesday at the Dome, NSCI SVP Stadium, here.
Do-or-die time for four teams
After exchanging a blow each in the league stage, Tamil Thalaivas and UP Yoddhas will go all out in the second Eliminator. The winner of the contest will set up a semi-final date with Puneri, which is considered as one of the hot favourites to go the distance.
The players in the ‘Starting Sevens’ of both Thalaivas and Yoddhas will have spring in their step, having been given ample rest after achieving qualification for their respective teams. But, the Tamil Nadu side may be handicapped to an extent on a historic night – it will make its maiden appearance in the PKL play-offs.
Stand-in skipper and right corner Sagar Rathee, currently out with an injury, is unlikely to return to the matchday squad, with Arpit Saroha set to deputise in his absence. The Eliminator 2 will also have a sub plot as ‘Dubki King’ Pardeep Narwal, the UP captain, will be up against ‘Dubki Kid’ Narender, the point machine in the TT line-up.
The Yoddhas management did well to protect the mercurial Pardeep when the two teams last met during the Hyderabad leg recently. But, Thalaivas is prepared to ‘tackle’ the challenges that are thrown at it, said left corner Sahil Gulia.
“Yes, it (UP) did not play Pardeep in that match. But, we have faced it before. Our team is pretty confident. Our team is full of young players and we have been doing really well. I do not think that we are under pressure. This (play-offs) is a big stage. We will look to deliver at this level as we have not reached here before,” Sahil told DT Next.
Talking about his good form, Sahil, who has picked up 51 tackle points in 21 matches this season, said: “I am pretty happy that I have contributed to our journey. I am excited for the play-offs.” In the first Eliminator, defending champion Dabang Delhi and Bengaluru will battle it out to face Jaipur Pink Panthers in the last-four phase.