Pro Kabaddi 2019: New-look U Mumba tricky proposition for any team; Anup Kumar-led Puneri Paltan aim to punch above their weight

Deepti Patwardhan
With the Pro Kabaddi League season 7 kicking off in Hyderabad on Saturday, we take a look at the dark-horses of the tournament, including U Mumba, Puneri Paltan and UP Yoddha.

With the Pro Kabaddi League season 7 kicking off in Hyderabad on Saturday, we take a look at the dark-horses of the tournament.

U Mumba

The original glamour team of the League, U Mumba might pay a price for its success once again.

The Mumbai franchise had started out as one of the most successful teams in the League, making the finals of the first three seasons. But rather than going from strength-to-strength, they were emptied out in the next auctions with the result that the team failed to even make the playoffs in season four and five.

U Mumba made a fresh start last season, bringing in Irani coach Gholamreza Mazandarani and captain Fazel Atrachali. With them at the helm and Siddharth Desai emerging as the most exciting young talent of season 6, Mumbai finished second in Zone A and easily made the playoffs. The result of that eye-catching run was another exodus of talent from the team.

While U Mumba held on to their captain Atrachali, they had to let go of coach Mazandarani, Desai and experienced defender Dharmaraj Cheralathan.

U Mumba have attempted to fill the void left by Desai by bringing in Dong Geon Lee and Athul MS. In addition, they have also retained the services of Rohit Baliyan and Abhishek Singh, who did a good job as support raiders last season. But U Mumba is very obviously missing a leading man in attack. Of the four raiders mentioned, only Baliyan has played more than 50 matches and he doesn't have the best of averages €" 225 raid points in 52 matches.

With Sanjeev Kumar Baliyan having taken over as the coach, U Mumba is once again banking on their defence to see them through. They have brought in strongman Sandeep Narwal at the right corner to complement Atrachali on the left. Meanwhile, Mumbai's corner-cover combination of Atrachali and Surender Singh, who had a league-high of 58 combined tackle points, will look to build on that success.

However, it remains to be seen if U Mumba's defensive strength can help them overcome their raiding worries.

Retained: Fazel Atrachali, Rohit Baliyan (FBM), Abhishek Singh (FBM)

Key Transfers in: Sandeep Narwal (from Puneri Paltan for Rs 89 lakhs), Dong Geon Lee (from Gujarat Fotunegiants for Rs 25 lakhs), Athul MS (from Tamil Thalaivas for Rs 20 lakhs)

Key Transfers out: Siddharth Desai (to Telugu Titans for Rs 1.45 crore), Dharmaraj Cheralathan (to Haryana Steelers for Rs 38.5 lakhs), Vinod Kumar (to Gujarat Fortunegiants for Rs 26 lakhs)

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Puneri Paltan

The team's most high-profile acquisition was coach Anup Kumar.

The former India captain, who led the team to the 2016 World Cup triumph, had called curtains on his playing career last season. One of the best man-managers and tactical minds in the game, Kumar, who won one PKL title with U Mumba, was quickly snapped up by Puneri Paltan to take charge of their team in season 7.

The Pune franchise retained two of their standout players from last year: Nitin Tomar and Girish Ernak. Playing as the lead raider, Tomar struggled with injuries in the second half of the season but had made a superb start, scoring 64 points in the first five matches.

While he will spearhead Pune's attack once more, youngster Manjeet has been brought in as the second raider. Manjeet was a part of the Patna Pirates set up last season and supported Pardeep Narwal very well, scoring 87 points in 22 matches last season.

Pune will receive another big boost in the form of Surjeet Singh. One of the best cover defenders in the country, Surjeet led the Bengal Warriors exceptionally well in the past two seasons and has been appointed captain at Puneri Paltan. Pune's success may well depend on how well he combines with the versatile, but at times reckless, Girish Ernak in defence.

Retained: Nitin Tomar (FBM), Girish Ernak (FBM)

Key Transfers in: Manjeet (from Patna Pirates for Rs 62 lakh), Surjeet Singh (from Bengal Warriors for Rs 56 lakh)

Key transfers out: Sandeep Narwal (to U Mumba for Rs 89 lakh), More GB (to Gujarat Fortunegiants for Rs 21.5 lakhs)

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Tamil Thalaivas

In a bid to make up for the disappointment of the past two seasons, the Tamil Thalaivas have packed the team with experience.

One of the League's best-known faces, Rahul Chaudhari, has been roped in to share raiding duties with captain Ajay Thakur. Along with making sure to retain veteran all-rounder Manjeet Chhillar, they have also bulked up their defence by bringing in Mohit Chhillar and Ran Singh (left corner).

In PKL 6, the Thalaivas and the Telugu Titans relied heavily on Thakur and Chaudhari respectively to score the bulk of the raiding points, and with good reason: Chaudhari is the second-highest scorer in PKL history with 825 raid points and Thakur is the third highest with 732. Good friends off the field, their opponents could be in for a torrid time if they hit it off on the mat for the Tamil Thalaivas this season.

The team also has three of the ten most prolific defenders in the country. Manjeet Chhillar leads the chart with 302 tackle points and is the only defender in the League to cross the 300-mark. Mohit Chhillar is fourth on the leaderboard for the most overall tackle points in the league, with 240 points, while Ran Singh is 10th with 199 points.

Thalaivas coach E Bhaskaran will reunite with Mohit Chhillar and Shabeer Bapu this season. The trio was part of one of the most accomplished squads in the League €" the U Mumba that made three straight finals from 2014-2016. Though they haven't found the same level of success elsewhere, they know a thing or two about winning.

The Thalaivas, who have been part of the League since 2017, have finished last in Zone B on both occasions. Maybe, for them, the only way to go is up.

Retained: Ajay Thakur, Manjeet Chhillar

Key transfers in: Rahul Chaudhari (from Telugu Titans for Rs 94 lakhs), Mohit Chhillar (from Jaipur Pink Panthers for Rs 45 lakhs), Ran Singh (from Bengal Warriors for Rs 55 lakhs), Shabeer Bapu (from Dabang Delhi for Rs 10 lakhs)

Key transfers out: Amit Hooda (to Jaipur Pink Panthers for Rs 53 lakhs), Sukesh Hegde (to Bengal Warriors for Rs 20 lakh)

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UP Yoddha

If last season is anything to go by, you cannot count this team out.

UP Yoddha had the worst home leg in season 6 and went on a streak of nine matches without victory. But they ended the zonals in a blaze, remaining unbeaten in the last six matches to enter the playoffs and knocked out one of the favourites, U Mumba, in Eliminator 1.

It was a defensive masterclass by the team against U Mumba that day, as they racked up 18 tackle points to win 34-29. UP have retained Nitesh Kumar, the hero of that match and their MVP last season. The right corner became the first defender to score a century, topping the charts last season with a 100 tackle points.

Having retained captain Rishank Devadiga and Shrikant Jadhav through the Final Bid Match, Yoddhas have fortified their attack by adding last season's highest-paid player Monu Goyat.

Goyat, who set a league record by fetching a price of Rs 1.51 crore last season, came reasonably cheap at Rs 93 lakh. More importantly, though, his inclusion means UP is the only team to have three raiders who have scored 100 or more points. Devadiga, one of the League's most enduring stars, has accumulated a total of 549 raid points over six seasons, Goyat has 410 in 59 matches while Jadhav as 244 in 54 matches.

With captain Devadiga struggling for form and fitness last season, Jadhav stepped in the lead role impressively. He scored 141 raid points and took over as their do-or-die specialist.

Meanwhile, Devadiga and Goyat will be looking to make amends. Both the players had gone for more than a crore at the 2018 auctions but weren't quite able to live up to the hype. Redemption on their mind, the attacking duo might just lift the team to a higher level should they get going.

Retained: Rishank Devadiga (FBM), Shrikant Jadhav (FBM), Nitesh Kumar

Key Transfers in: Monu Goyat (from Haryana Steelers for Rs 93 lakhs), Mohsen Maghsoudlou (from Telugu Titans for Rs 21 lakhs)

Key transfers out: Prashanth Kumar Rai (to Harayana Steelers for Rs 77 lakhs), Jeeva Kumar (to Bengal Warriors for Rs 31 lakhs)

Also See: Pro Kabaddi 2019: U Mumba pick Iran's Fazel Atrachali as captain; Surjeet Singh to lead Puneri Paltan

Ultimate Table Tennis 2019: Defending champions Dabang Delhi to face Puneri Paltan on opening day of third season

Pro Kabaddi 2019: Defending champions Bengaluru Bulls, new-look Telugu Titans set for title tilt; Gujarat Fortunegiants favourites too

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