"Our all-round show has been the driving factor for us this season," says Dabang Delhi K.C skipper Joginder Narwal
The sixth season of the Pro Kabaddi League has reached the business end of this edition and the six teams in the fray, three each from Zone 'A' and Zone 'B' will be raring to go in their quest to lift the title on the 5th of January 2019.
U Mumba, Gujarat Fortune Giants, and Dabang Delhi K.C have made the cut from Zone 'A' while from Zone 'B', the Bengaluru Bulls, Bengal Warriors, and UP Yoddha occupy the final three slots in the playoffs.
In the discussions ahead of the playoffs, one team has certainly grabbed a majority of the spotlight owing to their unprecedented run this season, that has seen them book a spot in the playoffs for the first time ever in the history of the league.
Dabang Delhi K.C, under the stewardship of 'Takedown Tiger' Joginder Narwal has made their way to the knockout stages, breaking their jinx of horrendous runs in the past five seasons of the league.
While kabaddi fans around the globe have chalked out various rationales behind Delhi's stunning success, skipper Joginder Narwal is not one for a lot of talks as he calmly explains that he knew that this team would certainly go all the way this season.
"I had the belief in my team from the start of the season," as he adds and says, "I have personally played in many playoff stages but this is a first for Dabang Delhi K.C and the players and management are very upbeat about the games that lie ahead of us."
In a season of mixed fortunes in the league stages, Delhi's qualification was indeed bent upon results that needed to be in their favor from other matches but when the Jaipur Pink Panthers played out a 35-35 stalemate against U Mumba in Match No.114, the writing was on the wall.
"As a team, we knew the equation that we were facing. In our hotel, we were closely watching the match between these two teams and were undoubtedly celebrating as we rejoiced in our first-time qualification into the playoffs."
In a fast-paced game such as Kabaddi, 'momentum' is an imperative word that goes hand in hand with a team's fortunes all throughout the season. Narwal's thoughts echo with this statement as he lays emphasis on his team's five wins out of six home games, the best performance in this season.
"It is very important to perform in the home leg. We knew that to enhance our chances of qualification, we had to win all our matches in the home leg. There were a few mistakes, but we managed to win five out of six games and the team atmosphere was very positive."
Surrounded by the vociferous crowd at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex in Delhi, 'The Eagles' were undoubtedly under the pump to perform and show the door to the ghosts of their past, which is what exactly transpired across the six games.
"There was no difference in our strategies from our home and away matches. We did have a lot of home support in our home leg but the message was to take one game at a time."
Apart from the fact that the team was laden with experience ahead of the season, the mega auctions ahead of the sixth season was a matter of discussion as Delhi retained only Meraj Sheykh and a few young players from their previous season.
"Ahead of the season, we started on a new slate. The players who played last season left the team and in addition to that, we had a new management as well," Narwal says as he mentions, "Hence, there was no pressure on the team or me, in particular".
For a team that has failed to stitch together moments of individual brilliance in the past that led to their dismal show in the previous five seasons, the beginning to the season was the most essential for The Eagles. Narwal takes no time in crediting the coach for the success thus far.
"The coach picked a team which had a unique mix of experience and youth. The message ahead of the season during the preparation camps was to put in complete efforts in each game and ensure that we did not commit too many errors during the game."
Apart from his own experience in the squad, the likes of Ravinder Pahal and Vishal Mane have also contributed in vital proportions, which Narwal believes is a major driving factor in the team's debut qualification in the playoffs.
"Vishal Mane and Ravinder Pahal both have a lot of experience. When I am out of the mat, I can depend on these two players to take control of the game and hence it helps me to perform as a captain and individually."
Yet, apart from the acres of experience in the team, the youngsters have also had a major say in the outcome of the matches and in particular, Naveen Kumar's addition to the team has proved to be one of their best additions this season.
In just his debut season, Naveen has slotted into the role of Delhi's primary raider and has accumulated 151 raid points from 20 matches thus far, which has reaped a shower of praise from his skipper.
"He's a youngster who has performed exceedingly well this season," Narwal speaks of Kumar and adds, "I can only hope that he continues his top form and take us to the finals, where he can hopefully win us the elusive title."
Hailing from Rindhana in Haryana, one of India's kabaddi hotbeds, it comes as no surprise that Joginder Narwal is on top of his trade and takes from his elder brother, who is a 1994 Asian Games Gold medallist.
With a penchant for raiding as well, Narwal opts to put his raiding skills to the shadows and in turn chooses to focus on what he does best, defending in the left corner while leading his confident battalion in this edition.
"We have an all-round team this season. The raiders in Naveen, Chandran Ranjit, and Meraj Sheykh have forged an excellent alliance while the defense is manned by a whole lot of experienced hands. This is one main feature that has led to our success this season."
While Delhi enjoys their qualification into the knockout stages, a first for the team in six seasons, Narwal does indeed sport a slight smile as he scratches his head when quizzed about any possible errors in the season thus far.
"There have not been any obvious mistakes but in the starting of the season, we failed to convert opportunities and fell to big losses. Slowly we managed to correct small mistakes and now we are a confident team as we head into the playoff stages."
"All of our players are in top nick and there is no belief that one player is better than the rest," Narwal smiles as he resides belief in his team and adds, "Both departments have put up a confident show and we have the inner belief that we can make it all the way till the finals."
In the end, Narwal claims that 'The Eagles' are raring to go as a new challenge lies ahead of them, a new obstacle that the team has never come across in the past five seasons. A spot in the knockouts that could well change the outlook of kabaddi in the eyes of a Dabang Delhi K.C fan.