On 15th December 2022, the first row of the VIP stand at the NSCI Stadium played host to star-studded personnel in attendance for the Jaipur Pink Panthers vs Bengaluru Bulls Eliminator 2 clash as part of Pro Kabaddi 2022 (PKL 9).
Jaipur team owner Abhishek Bachchan was accompanied by his wife, Bollywood heartthrob Aishwarya Rai, and the duo's 11-year-old daughter, Aaradhya. Next to Rai sat Abhishek's niece Navya Nanda and she had legendary Bollywood actor Anupam Kher's son, Sikander Kher, for company.
In the typical Bachchan family style, all of them pumped their firsts, clapping vigorously and cheering on every point that the Pink Panthers scored on their way to demolishing the Bulls by a 20-point margin to book their spot in the Pro Kabaddi 2022 final.
The star cast for today's PKL 9 final between the Panthers and Puneri Paltan will be further boosted by the presence of Bollywood's style icon Ranveer Singh, actresses Jacqueline Fernandez, Pooja Hegde among others, who will add to the fervour of this Pro Kabaddi League edition's summit clash.
Seldom do fans get an opportunity to witness these stars in such close proximity, and while that would mean the world to an expected full house at the NSCI Stadium, one man in the Puneri Paltan ranks would be keen to put the fan in him aside and do all it takes to inflict a loss on the Bachchan-owned team.
Pune skipper Fazel Atrachali, a self-confessed fan of the Bachchan family, could well be one of the few players on the mat who might elicit maximum cheers from the fans once the whistle is blown to signal the start of the PKL 9 final.
"My favourite actor is Amitabh Bachchan and my favourite actress is Aishwarya Rai," Fazel Atrachali had told Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.
Such is the gentlemanly nature of Atrachali that you can expect him to welcome the Bachchan family to the arena with folded arms and a bright smile on his face. He considers India his second home, and with familiar faces in the stands - let alone those he loves to watch on the big screens - the warmth and love that defines Atrachali will come pouring out.
All that love, though, is reserved for moments only before and after the match. Atrachali will then go on to remove his Puneri Paltan jacket, lay it gently on the dugout cushion and get on with his warm-up drills that will get every fan to stand up and take note in awe of his athleticism.
The Iranian's routine is unmissable. A roll on the mat followed by a leap with both his legs and arms outstretched to get his adrenaline pumping. A pat on each player's back, a quick ruffle of their hair and a mini wrestling bout with compatriot Mohammad Nabibakhsh to complete his pre-match pattern.
Ahead of today's Pro Kabaddi 2022 final, the routine will again be on display for one last time this season - the order might change, but the elements will never.
For a man who also knows his numbers (not Maths, Atrachali apparently hates Maths!) and remembers certain moments in the PKL like it happened yesterday, the Puneri Paltan skipper will know he has a golden opportunity to cement a legacy as one among the top two on the list of Pro Kabaddi's greatest players.
Okay now, wait. Before anyone jumps up and throws up Pardeep Narwal's name and detests the very plot of this article, let's take a deep dive into the numbers.
Fazel Atrachali - Pro Kabaddi League's greatest player?
If we first take a glance at most points scored in their own discipline, Pardeep (1568 - raid points) and Atrachali (421 - tackle points) are outright leaders, with no competition for either PKL stars anywhere in close proximity.
Pardeep won his first Pro Kabaddi title back in PKL 4 when he captained the Patna Pirates to the trophy. If Puneri Paltan do well enough to overcome the Pink Panthers' threat, PKL 9 will be Atrachali's first title victory as captain.
In terms of titles won as players, leaving aside their role as captains, Pardeep has won three trophies (PKL 4, 5 and 6). Atrachali was a part of U Mumba's title-winning side in PKL 2 and interestingly, he played a major hand in Patna Pirates' successful campaign in PKL 4 where finished as the best defender that season.
A win in the Pro Kabaddi 2022 final would then make him part of an exclusive club of players who have won most PKL titles - Pardeep (3) and veteran cover defender Jeeva Kumar (3).
So far, given Puneri Paltan win the title, both Pardeep and Atrachali will be tied on two achievements. The Iranian, though, has one ace card that Pardeep can't escape with his famed dubki.
Atrachali is Pro Kabaddi's most successful captain and is currently leading the way with 56 PKL wins from 95 matches, a list in which Pardeep doesn't even feature among the top three - Anup Kumar is 2nd (52), followed by JPP skipper Sunil Kumar (47).
So far, we've looked into collective efforts, but if we go a little deeper, Pardeep holds the record for most points in a single raid (8) - an aspect that Atrachali can't boast of as any form of an equivalent.
Yet, for a 30-year-old to shepherd a group that averages 22 by age is no small feat, that too under the constant pressure that comes with the grandeur of the Pro Kabaddi League.
Atrachali has already proved his worth as one of Pro Kabaddi's greatest stars, but a win as captain would cement his name in the figurative PKL Hall of Fame.
The victory, though, will have to come at the expense of bringing sorrow to the Bachchan family, who will be gunning for their team to win the title after a long wait of eight seasons.
As for the Puneri Paltan fans, the trophy has never come home and in fact, this is the first time the team has made the final in their storied PKL history. If Atrachali becomes the first captain to lead them to a Pro Kabaddi title, you shouldn't be shocked if they instill a life-size statue of the Iranian in front of the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex to celebrate the occasion!