Expect more close finishes in the second half of the season: Ashok Shinde
The pulsating Pune leg of the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi reached its finale as the home side Puneri Paltan sent their fans off in the best possible manner by clinching a dramatic win over the Bengaluru Bulls. Late drama has been the only constant this season and more so for the Puneri Paltan who have somehow seen each of their games go down to the wire, but with contrasting results. Two wins, two draws and three very close defeats have ensured the coach and the fans have always remained on the edge of their seats whenever Puneri Paltan have hit the courts. But for coach Ashok Shinde the pressure is an integral part of a coach’s job and a challenge he relishes.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda after the Puneri Paltan’s nail-biting win over the Bengaluru Bulls, the Puneri Paltan gaffer shared his insights on close encounters in the league this season, what the home leg meant for his Puneri Paltan side, Manjeet Chhillar and how the league looks like in his eyes at the half way mark.
Here are the excerpts:
Puneri Paltan was cruising against the Bengaluru Bulls, what happened at the end, why did the game get so close?
AS: To be very honest, we expected this to be a close game. This season, with the addition of the Services players all teams are more or less equal. Last season, you could say U Mumba were going to win the league, but that’s not the case this season. As far as the Bulls, they don’t have a big name in their team and hence they play with great freedom and little pressure. So we expected it to be a close game, although not this close. But I’m glad we managed to win the game, as we have lost such games in the past.
How do you assess your home leg? Are you happy with it?
AS: I’m happy with the home leg. I won’t say completely satisfied as I felt we should have won the game against U Mumba which we lost. But apart from that, I am happy with the results, considering we missed two very important players in Deepak Hooda and Surjeet.
How much of a difference would those two players make to the team after coming back?
AS: For our team it is critical to have those two players. With Surjeet, our right cover problem is solved and Deepak Hooda’s presence in the team eases the pressure on Ajay Thakur. So we will get the balance back in our team. In terms of the league, I don’t think it changes much as every team have had players who have gone to play for India. So on that front, it evens out. I expect games to be very close like we saw in Pune. I feel more of that is to come this season.
These close games are great entertainment for the crowd. But as a coach how good is it for your well-being?
AS: The coach is always under pressure to get the right results. I think it is a part of our job. Dealing with pressure is a challenge for the coach, and I am ready for it. In fact, I love that challenge.
What is your take on Manjeet Chhillar’s performance as a player and as a captain?
AS: Manjeet is a great player. He is a great example for everyone on the court, be it young or an experienced player. What I really like about Manjeet’s captaincy is that he takes the lead in tough situations and most of the times he gets it right. As a player, I don’t need to say anything, his performance on the courts says it all.
Ajay Thakur showed signs of his old form in the last few matches. How critical is Ajay’s form for your team?
AS: Ajay was struggling a bit in the first three games, but in the last few matches he is gaining some momentum. If he can keep on getting better and get back to his best, and with Deepak Hooda around, we can surely make the semi-finals
What’s your take on the Pune fans who came to support you?
AS: I have no words to describe how good they were. We have played in three different cities before this, and there is no doubt that the fans in Pune are the best. I don’t think we would have been able to win the match against Bengaluru Bulls today without their support.
Lastly, with the league at the half-way point, what is your assessment of your team’s chances of making it to the semi-finals?
AS: This league is very close. We are just a few points behind the fourth place. In the second half, we must ensure we better the results we got in the first part. We beat Dabang Delhi in the first fixture, so we can’t afford to lose against Delhi. I think we need to win four of the remaining games to be in the semi-final. I am happy with the current form, I believe we have gained momentum now and I think we will be able to maintain it.