It has been the season of young raiders and Pawan Kumar Sehrawat had been the Bengaluru Bulls' poster boy so far. But when it came to the most crucial phase for the team, the dreaded home leg, it was captain Rohit Kumar who stepped up and led the way. Playing at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, their home away from home in Pune, Rohit scored 57 points as Bengaluru won three out of their six home matches to continue their lead at the top of Zone B.
That is not to say Sehrawat didn't perform well. He just couldn't keep up with the incredibly high scoring rate. Sehrawat had arrived in Pune with a League-high average of 12.4 raid points per match, a difficult standard to maintain for most. The 22-year-old was a shade under in Pune, earning 46 points in the six matches, including two Super 10s.
Meanwhile, Rohit, who had happily conceded the stage to the pacy youngster all this time, slipped back into his role as the team's leading raider. His contribution of 10 raid points was especially crucial in the game against Tamil Thalaivas. The Thalaivas had been successful to keep Sehrawat out for large portions of the match through their right corner Anil Kumar. But Rohit, the more seasoned raider, was able to use his height to exploit the visible weak links in the Tamil defence. His Super Raid with four minutes to go sprung open the narrow gap between the two teams and paved the way for a big win for Bengaluru.
Rohit followed it up with another sparkling performance against Patna Pirates. With 13 points he was the most prolific raider in the match but still ended up on the losing side. He had been integral to his team's second-half revival when they valiantly tried to close down a 12-point gap. But the Patna Pirates had just enough firepower to keep them at bay.
The Patna Pirates and their talisman, Pardeep Narwal, had started off the season slowly but are back in the menacing form that saw them claim three successive titles. With Pardeep (11 points) leading the charge, the Pirates surged to their fifth victory in a row when they edged Bengaluru Bulls 35-32 on Sunday. While Pardeep has continued to ambush rival defenders, Patna's left corner Jaideep has been the steadying force in defence.
It is an encouraging sign for the defending champions as the League heads into the business end of the League stage. After eight weeks of action, the Bengaluru Bulls are the clear leaders of Zone B with 58 points in 16 matches.
In Zone A, the Gujarat Fortunegiants continued their incredible run. The Gujarat franchise came up with another all-round, clinical performance this week, defeating the Puneri Paltan 35-20. In the 15 matches played, they have lost only two so far and are top of the group with 63 points. U Mumba, who beat Dabang Delhi 39-23 this week, are close behind at 62 points from 16 matches while Pune is third with 47 points from 18 matches.
While the cream is rising steadily to the top in Zone A, it could still be anybody's game in the other group.
Though Bengaluru have opened up a considerable lead in Zone B, at least four teams are still effectively in the running for the other two knockout spots. The UP Yoddha also still have a mathematical chance but it seems improbable that they can snap out of their losing run. The team has not won a single match in the last 10 outings and have only 29 points in 16 matches so far. With only six matches left in the League stage, the Yoddhas will need nothing short of a miracle to go through.
Time is also running out for the Jaipur Pink Panthers, who are rooted to the bottom of Zone A. They have 20 points from 12 matches, and drew 30-30 with Pune in their only game this week.
Back from the dead
Season 6 has already seen its fair share of upsets, but it was time for two of the biggest comebacks this week.
Puneri Paltan has been struggling to keep up with the initial success mainly because their lead raider Nitin Tomar is still out injured. And the team looked on a slippery slope down against Haryana Steelers on Wednesday when they finished the first half at 23-8. Playing in their hometown though, Pune came out fighting.
They rode on Sandeep Narwal's bravado in the second-half. Even as the stocky all-rounder pinched points in raid, Pune's defence struck the perfect balance between aggression and calm. In 14 minutes, Pune scored 17 points while conceding only five more to close the gap to 28-25. With four minutes to go, Monu inflicted the first all-out on Haryana and took Pune to a 31-27 lead. Rattled by Pune's onslaught, Haryana fumbled in the closing minutes and conceded the match 33-35.
Bengaluru would have had a more successful run in their home leg if it wasn't bookended by defeats to Bengal Warriors. Having tamed the Bulls 33-31 in the opening match, Bengal roared back to victory in the last game on Thursday.
The home team had started the second half with a commanding lead of 20-12. But in a 20-minute fury, the Warriors amassed 32 points and inflicted three all-outs on Bengaluru to stomp to a 44-37 victory. It was another blistering performance from Maninder Singh who scored 17 raid points in the match.
The 28-year-old had started his PKL journey on a promising note, winning the man of the match performance for Jaipur Pink Panthers during the season 1 finale against U Mumba. The powerful raider had fallen through the gaps for a couple of years but is firmly back in the mix. With Jang Kun Lee not as effective this season, he has been Bengal's leading light, scoring 118 raid points in 12 matches.