Puneri Paltan coach Ashok Shinde: "The signing of the services players has strengthened every team"
The Puneri Paltan have had very little joy in the first two seasons of the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League, but this season there is a wide belief that the Puneri Paltan have got what it takes to compete with the big boys in the league. Manjeet Chhillar, Ajay Thakur, Deepak Niwas Hooda and Somvir Shekhar have been added to the ranks as the Puneri Paltan look to wipe out the fallings of the first two seasons and script a new beginning.
The architect of this revolution at Puneri Paltan is Coach Ashok Shinde who deserves huge credit for turning it around for the Paltan. Shinde failed to weave his magic in his first season in-charge when Puneri Paltan finished in the last spot. But since then Ashok Shinde has been a man on a mission. Shinde not just identified the problem areas but also acted promptly to acquire the best possible solution to these problems. The Puneri Paltan Coach divulged his thought process as he re-built the Puneri Paltan outfit before giving his insights on the new season in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
Here are the excerpts:
Q. There has been a complete overhaul of the squad. How do you see you new-look Puneri Paltan outfit?
I am happy with the set of players we have. We have a lot of big names in our team this season and the team certainly looks very strong on paper.
Q. Where according you did the problems lie last season?
Last season, we had a very unbalanced squad. The youngsters were very young and the experienced player were close to retirement. So the youngsters didn’t have the experience in tough matches and the senior players weren’t able to cope with the physical requirements of this league. So this season we have a good blend of you and senior players. Our senior players this time are of the right age and they can perform consistently in this hectic league.
Q. You signed 3 players from Bengaluru Bulls. How do you think it will help your team?
Manjeet Chhillar, Ajay Thakur and Somvir Shekhar all played very well last season. This is a very short league and I felt it was necessary to have a set working combination in your team, especially after we made so many changes to the team. But those players are excellent players and that’s what I looked at when I signed them.
Q. You said at the end of last season, that teams competing in this league must have 20% experienced players and 80% youngsters. How successful were you in achieving that balance?
We have a perfect combination I feel. We have a lot of youngsters in our team like Ajay Thakur, Deepak Niwas Hooda, Yogesh Hooda who are very good players. Manjeet Chhillar, Prashant Chavan and Jasmer Singh Gulia are very experienced and so far they have been guiding the team very well. So I feel the balance of the team is just right this season.
Q. Injuries really hurt your chances last season. What are your plans to not let that happen this season?
In a sport like kabaddi, injuries are unavoidable. Last season when we lost key players we didn’t have enough quality options to fill their boots. This time we have a lot of options. Somvir Shekhar is injured right now, but we have Surjeet who took his place and performed well. I feel we are better equipped to tackle injuries this season.
Q. Despite a poor showing last season, there are few players like Ravi Kumar that you chose to retain. What was the thought behind that?
The reason is that they are very good players. The problem we had last season is that we were too dependent on these players to win us matches. If they failed, we lost. So the pressure on them was huge. This time we have a very strong team and these players can play with a lot more freedom. You will be able to judge them much more fairly after this season.
Q. You lost a very close game against Telugu Titans. Last year as well you lost too many close matches. Is it something that concerns you?
I don’t really know. I feel we were very unlucky not to win the first game. Luck completely deserted us in that game. But I feel we mustn’t arrive at such situations where there is a danger of losing games in the end. As I said last year, there was a lot of pressure on some of the players, so we often couldn’t finish the job. But I feel that won’t be the problem this season.
Q. What is your assessment of the League so far this season?
The league this season is very close. Initially I felt the battle would be between us and Mumbai, but after Services players were signed, I feel all the teams are more or less equal. We have already seen so many tight matches in the first leg and I feel that will continue.
Q. Lastly, what are your expectations for this season?
Right now we are only looking at qualifying for the semi-finals. It won’t be easy as the teams are so evenly matched. So we are now focussed only on getting to the semi-finals. We will see once we reach that stage.