Pro Kabaddi: Bengaluru Bulls enter final by beating Telugu Titans 39-38
The first semi-final saw 3rd placed Bengaluru Bulls and 2nd placed Telugu Titans face off at the NSCI Stadium in Mumbai. The Bulls qualified for the final with a narrow 39-38 win courtesy of an all round effort by the oldest player in the league, Dharmaraj Cheralathan, who scored 9 points. Rahul Chaudhari’s spectacular effort in the end failed to yield a result for the Titans, who will now move to the 3rd place playoff.
The second best raider in the second season of Pro Kabaddi, Rahul Chaudhari, got the proceedings underway by winning the first point of the match, but Manjeet Chhillar restored parity in the subsequent raid. The Bulls, who had finished 4th in the last season, took a 2-point lead through Dharmaraj Cheralathan’s defensive effort and captain Manjeet’s raids and they kept this lead till the 6th minute when Ajay Thakur was tackled by the Titans.
The Titans took the lead in the 9th minute when Rahul returned successfully from his raid after the Titans had caught Rajesh Mondal. By the 10th minute, Manjeet had tagged the second best defender in the league – 18-year-old Sandeep Kandola – for the second time in the match as he levelled the score at 5 each.
Manjeet continued his good run by winning his 3rd and 4th points of the match in a single raid as the Bulls extended their lead (8-5). However, Ajay Thakur was caught in a super tackle and Deepak Nivas Hudda won a point in his raid as the scoreline read 8-8 after 14 minutes. But, that was the signal the Bulls needed as they raced ahead and dominated the rest of the half.
D. Cheralathan and Ajay Thakur helped enforce an all out on the Titans in the 19th minute as they led 15-10. Ajay won another point for the Bulls as the half went to a close with the Bulls leading 16-10. The Titans’ inexperience was quite evident as the young team seemed overawed at the occasion and let their opponents in the driver’s seat.
The second half started in the same way the first got over – domination by Bengaluru Bulls. The Bulls won 5 straight points in the second half to reduce the Titans to just 2 defenders, but Sandeep broke that run with 2 points in his raid. However, they could not delay the all out for long as the Bulls completed a second all out in the 25th minute to lead the Titans 25-13.
Titans captain Meraj Sheykh was having an off day and the team from Bengaluru made the most of it by tackling him in the next minute and Ajay Thakur nearly returned with a super raid, but the referee awarded him just 2 points. Star raider Rahul was caught in the subsequent raid as the Bulls established their biggest lead – 16 points (13-29). Both the teams exchanged points for the next two minutes as the Bulls led 31-15 with 10 minutes to go in the match.
Too little, too late for the Titans
The Titans started a revival as they won 5 unanswered points in the corresponding 2 minutes to reduce Bulls’ lead to just 11 points. This prompted Bengaluru coach Randhir Singh to take a timeout to calm his players down and arrest the slide. A few dull minutes ensued and the match bursted into life after the 37th minute. With Telugu Titans down to 1 man, young Sandeep scored 2 points and sparked a comeback for the team from Hyderabad.
Manjeet Chhillar was caught in a super tackle in the resulting raid after which Rahul Chaudhari came to the party. He scored 6 points in his last 5 raids to almost bring the Bulls to their knees. However, Manjeet showed his experience and scored a point in the penultimate raid to increase his side’s lead to 2 (39-37) with the buzzer raid left. Manjeet sacrificed himself in the final raid to ensure the Bulls emerged victorious 39-38 and entered the final.
This was the Bengaluru Bulls’ first win in the knockout stages in 3 attempts, stretching back to season 1 and also their 5th win over the Titans. They will now face the winners of U Mumba and Patna Pirates on 23rd August, while Telugu Titans take on the losers of that match on the same day.
Man of the match: Dharmaraj Cheralathan