This time around the Pro Kabaddi stage is set to be bigger and better, spanning across three months from the 28th of July. It will witness 12 teams lock horns against each other in an entirely new zonal format, with two zones comprising of six teams each. Further, the top three teams from each zone will make the cut for the play-off’s to be held in the last leg of the tournament. But did PKL always take place on such a grand scale?
Rolling back three years in time, the inaugural edition of the Pro Kabaddi League lasted for just over a month with eight teams taking to the mat and the top four in the points tally making it to the play-off stage. At the end of it all, it was the Abhishek Bachchan co-owned franchise Jaipur Pink Panthers which emerged victorious and claimed the coveted title.
Featuring a well-balanced side with strong core players, the Panthers crushed their rivals U Mumba by 11 points in the final encounter, a margin which is huge by the standards of kabaddi.
Now, post the Season 5 auctions, the players have been shuffled across many teams, but we look at where the the winning stars from Season 1 are at the moment.
#1 Jasvir Singh
Referred to as the ‘Smiling Assasin’, Jasvir Singh played an instrumental role in the attack for the Pink Panthers since the beginning of the first edition, amassing a total of 106 raid points.
The diminutive, yet talented and skillful Jasvir showcased the ability of not only snatching a point from under the nose of the rival defence but was also given the responsibility of slowing down the pace of an otherwise fast and energy sapping encounter.
Today, Jasvir is one of the only four players to play for the same team since Season 1, with the Jaipur owners showing their faith in him and buying him back at the auctions prior to the fifth edition.
#2 Navneet Gautam
The skipper of the Jaipur side, Navneet already had several accolades to his name as a testament to his skills before being picked up to play in the Pro Kabaddi League. He had won two Asian Games gold medals, the World Cup and had been bestowed with the Arjuna award in 2007. But, in the capacity of a skipper, the left corner defender was a completely different man, marshalling his troops all along with tactics and strategies that helped them win the title.
Post the initial seasons, Navneet was relegated to the bench because of his injuries and the availability of younger players. He subsequently took up the role of coaching the Australian team for the Kabaddi World Cup last year. However, in Season 5, he is back to where it all began, into the Jaipur fold, after being picked up at the auctions for Rs. 24 lakh.
#3 Maninder Singh
The lead raider for the Pink Panthers, this young gun was a livewire on the kabaddi mat with his rampant raids against the each and every opposition. Much credit for Jaipur’s domination can be attributed to this man’s stellar performance as he fetched 107 raid points including 8 in the final against U Mumba.
However, lady luck was not by his side, and Maninder slowly faded away from the scene post the first season owing to injury and then due to other AKFI rules and procedures. The fans of the Punjabi puttar can now rejoice for he will play for the Bengal Warriors in Season 5 after being bought for 45.50 lakhs.
#4 Rohit Rana
The jaw-strapped Himachal player stood like a wall in the defence for the Jaipur Pink Panthers, pinning down the most threatening raiders with his brute strength and able tactics. His efforts saw him notch up a tally of 38 tackle points through the course of Season 1.
Subsequently, he stayed in the Jaipur fold for the next three seasons, a regular member of the starting seven before being recruited by the Telugu Titans in the auctions ahead of Season 5. At the Vizag franchise, he will combine with Rakesh Kumar in the defence and it remains to be seen whether the two put up a formidable show or not.
#5 Prashant Chavan
Rohit’s partner in the right corner was Prashant Chavan, the defender from Maharashtra. Both of these players combined well to form a defensive stronghold for the team and in fact Prashant had his best outing in Season 1 with 32 tackle points.
From there on, it has been a downward slide for the player as he switched across to the Pune side post the second edition and then to the Dabang Delhi team in the fourth season. Hopefully, there will be a change in the fortunes of this talented defender this time around wherein he takes the mat in Delhi colours in a team led by Iranian Meraj Sheykh.
#6 Ran Singh
The mighty all-rounder, Ran Singh has been a consistent performer for his side since the inception of the league. He earned himself the tag of a player who can mould himself according to the requirement of the situation due to his exploits in the first season and has stayed true to that ever since.
In his 54 matches for the Pink Panthers, Ran Singh has amassed a total of 154 points which include 49 raid points and 105 tackle points. However, in Season 5, Ran Singh will be seen in the blue jersey of the Bengal Warriors after they fetched his services for a sum of 47.50 lakhs at the auctions.
#7 Rajesh Narwal
He was probably the most successful player for the Jaipur side in Season 1, with his exploits in both the raiding and defence department. The hardworking all-rounder contributed with 25 tackle points and 72 raid points on the course towards winning the title.
He has ever since been on song for the Jaipur franchise with performances that have highlighted his individual brilliance. But, he has now switched sides to the new franchise UP Yoddhas wherein he will look to combine with Jeeva Kumar in the defence and Nitin Tomar and Rishank in the attack.