Pro Kabaddi 2019: Jaipur bank on defence after disappointing season; Bengal look to move on from loss of Jang Kun Lee, Surjeet Singh

Deepti Patwardhan
The winners of the first edition of Pro Kabaddi League, Jaipur Pink Panthers have had a rough couple of seasons, while the Warriors will be without two of their talismans – Jang Kun Lee and Surjeet Singh—this time

The Jaipur Pink Panthers are hunting for lost glory and Dabang Delhi and the Bengal Warriors are looking for their first taste of success, while after a season of heavy spending, the Haryana Steelers have tightened their purse strings and strengthened their resolve. These teams may not be the top picks for Pro Kabaddi season 7, but each of these teams has a point to prove:

Jaipur Pink Panthers

The winners of the first edition of Pro Kabaddi League, Jaipur Pink Panthers have had a rough couple of seasons. They finished fifth in the six-team Zone 'A' in PKL 5 and 6, and have gone for some major changes this season.

For starters, they will be without Anup Kumar, who was appointed captain last season but retired from the sport mid-way through the team's home leg. They have also let go of right corner Mohit Chhillar, who was underwhelming last season.

The one big ray of hope for the Pink Panthers is all-rounder Deepak Hooda. Though he felt the pressure of the price-tag (Jaipur bought him for Rs 1.15 crore) in the beginning of the PKL 6, Hooda overcame the slow start and proved his worth later in the season. He was the team's lead raider and finished with 196 raid points and 10 Super 10s.

One of Jaipur's biggest shortcomings over the last two years has been the lack of raiding depth. They have sought to address the issue, bringing in Nilesh Salunke and Deepak Narwal as support raiders. The Pink Panthers also retained the services of promising youngster Nitin Rawal, though an injury kept him from doing his best last season. The presence of three back-up raiders is likely to ease the pressure on Hooda.

This becomes crucial for the Pink Panthers because they will need Hooda, who is the captain and the most experienced player in the team, to stay on the mat for the entirety of the tournament.

In defence, the Jaipur-franchise has brought back Amit Hooda, who was part of the squad when the team made the finals in season 4. An established defender, Amit will replace Chhillar in the right corner. An uncompromising defender, he had an impressive stint with the Tamil Thalaivas last season, even though the team didn't do too well, scoring 49 tackle points in 18 matches.

For Jaipur to have a good outing this season, they will need Amit to combine well with left corner Sandeep Dhull, who was by far the best defender in the team last term, scoring 67 tackle points, earning him an unexpected retention from the management ahead of the auction.

Retained: Deepak Hooda, Sandeep Dhull, Nitin Rawal

Key transfers in: Amit Hooda (from Tamil Thalaivas for Rs 53 lakhs), Deepak Narwal (from Patna Pirates for Rs 30.5 lakhs), Nilesh Salunke (from Telugu Titans for Rs 23.5 lakhs)

Key transfers out: Mohit Chhillar (to Tamil Thalaivas for Rs 45 lakhs)


Dabang Delhi

Having made the playoffs for the very first time last season, Dabang Delhi has stuck to their guns.

The Delhi franchise will once again rely on veteran Joginder Narwal to marshal the defence and former Iranian skipper Meraj Sheykh to lead the attack. The experienced duo was at the heart of the turnaround as Delhi won five out of their six home matches in PKL 6 and grabbed the final qualifying spot in Zone A.

While Narwal (left corner) and Sheykh were retained, Delhi also brought back veteran PKL defenders Ravinder Pahal and Vishal Mane via the final bid match. Pahal, who mans the right corner, is second on the PKL leaderboard for most tackle points, at 263, and was Delhi's most successful defender last season with 59 tackle points from 22 matches. Mane, a cover defender, has featured in all seasons of the League and has a total of 170 tackle points to his name.

Meanwhile, Sheykh is the only experienced campaigner in a young raiding unit. Though the Iranian is known to perform well under pressure, Delhi might pass more raiding responsibility to their find of last season: Naveen Kumar. The youngster was impressive on debut, scoring 172 raid points in 22 matches in PKL 6. They have also retained Chandran Ranjit, who scored 153 raid points from 24 matches.

Why fix it if it ain't broken?

Retained: Meraj Sheykh, Joginder Narwal, Ravinder Pahal (FBM), Chandran Ranjit (FBM), Naveen Kumar

Key transfers in: Vijay (from Patna Pirates for Rs 41 lakhs)

Key Transfers out: Shabeer Bapu (to Tamil Thalaivas for Rs 10 lakhs)


Bengal Warriors

The Warriors will be without two of their talismans €" Jang Kun Lee and Surjeet Singh €" this time.

Korea's Lee is one of the best known international players in the League and had been with the Warriors since season 1 in 2014. He moved to Patna Pirates this season, ending possibly the longest association between a foreign player and a Pro Kabaddi team. Tall, muscular and hard-working, the Korean had brought his martial arts background into play during a successful run with the team.

But the Warriors may especially miss Surjeet, their captain in the past two seasons. One of the best cover defenders in the country, Surjeet was a big influence on the team and guided them well through the ebbs and flows in a game.

Bengal have sought to make up for his loss by bringing in the experienced Jeeva Kumar. Though Jeeva has been a part of Pro Kabaddi since its inception, he's been injury-prone and has lost some pace.

At the auctions, however, Bengal's focus was clearly on improving their raiding prowess.

They have retained Maninder Singh, their main man from last season. Maninder, who was the man of the match for the Jaipur Pink Panthers in the final of the first season, was in fine form in PKL 6 and finished with 206 raid points (4th highest in the League). Additionally, the Warriors spent Rs 77.75 lakhs to bag Iranian raider Mohammad Nabibakhsh and also signed on Sukesh Hegde and K Prapanjan as support raiders.

Though this will be Nabibakhsh's first season in Pro Kabaddi, the price tag is mainly for his performances at the 2018 Asian Games and the Kabaddi Masters in Dubai last season.

Retained: Maninder Singh, Baldev Singh

Key transfers in: Mohammad Nabibakhsh (for Rs 77.75 lakhs), K Prapanjan (from Gujarat Fortunegiants for Rs 55.5 lakhs) Jeeva Kumar (from UP Yoddha for Rs 31 lakhs, Sukesh Hegde (from Tamil Thalaivas for Rs 20 lakhs)

Key transfers out: Surjeet Singh (to Puneri Paltan for Rs 56 lakhs), Ran Singh (to Tamil Thalaivas for Rs 55 lakhs), Jang Kun Lee (to Patna Pirates for Rs 40 lakhs)


Haryana Steelers

After the disappointment of last season, the Steelers have opted for somewhat of a fresh start.

Former India captain Rakesh Kumar has replaced Rambir Singh Khokhar as the coach. Haryana have also let go of last season's blockbuster signing Monu Goyat (highest ever at Rs 1.51 crore) and their first-choice captain Surender Nada, who missed out most of last season due to injury.

They have, however, retained their top performers in PKL 6: Vikas Kandola, Kuldeep Singh and Sunil.

With Goyat struggling for form and fitness early on, youngster Kandola had stepped in bravely and took on the role of the lead raider. Kandola finished with 172 raid points from 22 matches. In defence, Kuldeep Singh, who came in place of Nada, and Sunil shone for Haryana with 49 and 41 tackle points respectively.

In a bid to bolster their defence, Haryana have brought in veteran defender Dharmaraj Cheralathan, Ravi Kumar and Vikas Kale. Kumar, who stands at right cover, was one of the most impressive players for Puneri Paltan last season, finishing with 40 tackle points and was involved in seven super tackles.

As if stung by the experience last season, Haryana has stayed away from big-money transfers in the raiding department. They have added Prashanth Kumar Rai, who was a good second raider at UP Yoddha last season, Selvamani K and will hand Iran's Amirhossein Mohammad Maleki his Pro Kabaddi debut.

Retained: Vikas Khandola, Kuldeep Singh

Key transfers in: Prashanth Kumar Rai (from UP Yoddha for Rs 77 lakhs), Dharmaraj Cheralathan (from U Mumba for Rs 38.5 lakhs), Ravi Kumar (from Puneri Paltan for Rs 20 lakhs)

Key transfers out: Monu Goyat (to UP Yoddha for Rs 93 lakhs), Surender Nada (to Patna Pirates for Rs 77 lakhs)

Also See: Pro Kabaddi 2019: Faith in youngsters, proper game management key to Dabang Delhi's title chances, says veteran Vishal Mane

Pro Kabaddi 2019: Naveen Kumar hopes to fare better than last season and guide Dabang Delhi to title

Pro Kabaddi 2019: Fazal Atrachali, Jang Kun Lee shine as World 7 edge past Indian 7 in All-Star match

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