Pro Kabaddi League 2017 Season 5: "The season is almost 99% gone now from our hands," rues Thalaivas coach K Baskaran after loss to Yoddha
Margins have been slim every time the Tamil Thalaivas and UP Yoddha have faced off against one another in the Pro Kabaddi League 2017 Season 5. The two debutants have put on close matches that have been the source of much excitement for the audience. Wednesday's encounter between the two played out in very similar fashion. The Thalaivas' quest for that elusive first win still goes on as it was the Yoddha this time that picked up the win, emerging victorious 37-33.
The Thalaivas had come into their home leg buoyant on the back of two consecutive victories, but had been unable to keep that momentum going after losing all four games before Wednesday. Captain Ajay Thakur summed up the sort of sullen mood in the camp.
"Obviously, after a loss, everyone is disappointed. We feel bad and the confidence dips", admitted Thakur. "But we always keep ourselves motivated. That we have to do well, that we should keep fighting till the last moment -- these are the things we tell ourselves. We always come motivated and keep believing that today will be our day. But so far it hasn't happened," added Thakur.
While his team may not have registered the expected victories, Thakur has been in phenomenal form the whole week and had another brilliant night with 14 points from his 18 raids. This was after his monstrous 20-point career-best performance in a losing cause on Tuesday night against the Telugu Titans.
Thakur now has 59 points from the five home matches in Chennai, averaging almost 12 a game. Barring the first game against the Puneri Paltan, he has picked up a Super 10 in every single game. Going back even further, the man has scored 99 points in his last nine games.
"See, it's a team game right? Unless our team is in the playoffs and not winning, I don't think the individual performances matter", said Thakur, choosing not to dwell on his impressive personal showings. "My team should win even if I have picked up only one point."
He also felt that the lack of a home win thus far was not due to any additional home pressure. "I don't think that played a part. So many people have come to cheer us. Yes, people have been disappointed after they have seen us lose", said Thakur.
He, however, went out of his way to thank the fans for coming despite the team's disheartening losses.
"I have been playing for the last four seasons at both national and international levels. But the kind of support that we have received, the number of fans who have come in to watch us has just kept increasing despite us losing," said Thakur.
"They have just continuously kept coming. And I want to truly thank them from my heart for all the support that they have shown us. I have played in so many places, but have never seen this kind of support from any other home crowd thus far. So I want to thank them and feel bad that the team has not been able to perform as well as they would have liked," added Thakur.
A common thread in the Thalaivas' debut campaign up until now has been their inability to seize the initiative in crucial moments. The trend continued in their latest loss; they led 5-2 early in the first half with the Yoddha down to just three men, but Prapanjan ended up getting Super Tackled to give 2 points to the Yoddha and bring them back.
And just a few minutes later, Thakur struck to reduce UP to just two and give his side a 9-6 lead. But they allowed substitute BS Santhosh, who had just come in, to go away with a 3-point Super Raid that completely flipped the game. Soon, it was they who ended up getting All Out when it should have been them inflicting one on the Yoddha.
"The captain and I discussed about this. Like he said, pressure of 'yes, we shall win in the next match' probably played a part," said Thalaivas coach K Baskaran about that shift in momentum. "We have told them to play on their own at times and also told them to go by instructions at other times. But there's a lot of pressure and neither has worked. They are so eager to win and do well," added the coach.
The Thalaivas raiders were actually going great guns in this game. Along with Thakur, his deputy K. Prapanjan also delivered big, eventually finishing with a Super 10 of his own.
"In the first half, we had a great chance. Ajay Thakur was having success, Prapanjan too. Our defence was having success. We couldn't convert that moment though," lamented coach Baskaran at his side's inability to make it count.
Prapanjan, who finished with 11 points and who the Yoddha found very difficult to contain, was not happy despite his Super 10 performance as he felt that his raid at the end with the game in the balance let the team down. After having trailed by 10 at one stage, the Thalaivas had come back and were in with a chance at 30-34 with four minutes to go.
"First half we scored well. The last raid, as the coach said, I went and got myself trapped deep. I made a mistake there," said Prapanjan, speaking about his raid at that point which he could not convert.
The Thalaivas' chances of heading to the playoffs are pretty much over now. Though a mathematical possibility exists, it would take a whole lot of things to go down well for them to make it through.
"As a coach, I have been motivating them in all possible ways in my style. The players are also doing their bit. The effort, the discipline is all there, it's good. But still we are not making use of those opportunities to win," pointed out coach Baskaran as he summed up the season.
"The responsibility and the expectations really were high I feel because of the fans. As Ajay Thakur said, despite us losing, the fans kept supporting and cheering for us. We are seeing such large crowds everyday and they are so passionate," he mentioned. "The players see them and they are all the more eager to do well and perform. And because of that, the mistakes somehow creep in."
"All my players are like my sons. We have learnt lots of lessons from our losses this season. The season is almost 99% gone now from our hands. UP Yoddha have to lose two of their four matches and we need to win all four to have a chance. And UP Yoddha are one of the strongest teams," said Baskaran before signing off.