The Pune leg of Pro Kabbadi League 2018 has been special as it comprised of both Intra-Zonal and Inter-Zonal matches, and gave a chance for teams to perform against a variety of oppositions.
This leg had a better outcome for the home side in comparison to the other two legs which were miserable for the home sides who barely managed to put together a couple of wins.
Puneri Paltan started off their home leg with a loss against the Gujarat Fortunegiants, but then they got their game together to string together three consecutive wins against the Jaipur Pink Panthers, U Mumba, and the Bengaluru Bulls. The final 2 matches of the leg for the home side turned out to be losses as the fatigue from the hectic schedule took a toll on their players and their performances.
For some teams (Bengal Warriors, Dabang Delhi, Gujarat Fortunegiants, Tamil Thalaivas, UP Yoddha) the Pune leg was a no-loss affair, while some (Haryana Steelers, Jaipur Pink Panthers, Patna Pirates) found it difficult to find a win and the remaining teams (Bengaluru Bulls, Telugu Titans, U Mumba) had a mixed bag of results.
In all the excitement provided by raiders, the likes of Siddharth Desai, Nitin Tomar, Ajay Thakur, and others, who provided the glamour to the game of Kabaddi, we tend to forget the role of the defenders who are equally as responsible for a team's fortunes.
So from among many fine defensive performances in this leg, 5 performances have been selected which were a notch above the others, and gave their team the decisive edge to win that particular encounter.
So here are the top 5 defensive performances from the Pune leg:
#5 Surjeet Singh (Bengal Warriors) - 6 points vs UP Yoddha
In a match which ended in a tie (40-40) with the raiders of either team scoring identical with 25 raid points each, it was the defence of the Bengal Warriors that kept them in the game against the strong attacking trio (Rishank-Shrikant-Prashant) of the Yoddhas.
Surjeet Singh, the Bengal Warriors captain, contributed with 6 tackle points which were 50% of his team's total tackle points. Not only that he organized his team into effective defensive formations to curb the scoring instinct of the Yoddhas.
#4 Manjeet Chhillar (Tamil Thalaivas) - 4 points vs Puneri Paltan
Although Ravi Kumar of Puneri Paltan won the Tata Ace Defender of the Match, it was Manjeet Chhillar who had a bigger impact on his team's fortunes, as he was influential in the Thalaivas win over the Puneri Paltan.
The experienced Manjeet Chhillar showed glimpses of his Season 2 self in his defined defensive performance against Nitin Tomar & co.
He was responsible for inflicting the critical all-out on the Puneri Paltan when he dashed G.B.More out of the court, and then his double-thigh hold on Paltan's raiding superstar, Nitin Tomar clinched the momentum in the Thalaivas favor which eventually lead to their victory.
His versatility on the court, as he effortlessly moves from the left corner to the left cover has made him one of the pillars on which the Thalaivas fortune rests this season.
#3 Girish Ernak (Puneri Paltan) - 5 points vs U Mumba
In a low-scoring encounter, it was the defense of the Puneri Paltan that gave them the push towards victory.
Puneri Paltan's captain and their defensive spearhead, Girish Maruti Ernak was in terrific form against U Mumba, as he stopped Siddharth Desai, U Mumba's raiding juggernaut, to run away with the game with his precise and strong tackles.
His decisive dash against Abolfazl Maghsoudlou to effect a single-handed Super-Tackle displayed the strength he packs in and the momentum he gains on his runs.
He was rested in Pune's last home match and would be raring to feature in their upcoming match against the Gujarat Fortunegiants and continue his splendid form in order to maintain his position at the top of Highest Tackle points list.
#2 Duo of Vishal Bhardwaj (6 points) & Abozar Mighani (5 points) against Patna Pirates
It would have been an injustice to choose one and leave the other, hence the only duo featuring in this list is that of Vishal Bhardwaj and Abozar Mighani who were at their defensive best against the Patna Pirates.
Vishal and Abozar combined together to score 6 and 5 tackle points respectively, which included 2 super tackles, one by each player.
Their effectiveness can be gauged from the fact that the highly-prolific Pardeep Narwal could only manage 5 raid points from his 15 attempted raids.
The duo has combined well with the other defenders in the team, which has resulted in the Telugu Titans being the team with the highest average tackle points (12.6 tackle points per match) in the competition.
#1 Ravi Kumar (Puneri Paltan) - 6 points vs Jaipur Pink Panthers
This was an easy but unexpected choice and would have been close to impossible to predict if asked to before the Pune leg.
The match (Puneri Paltan vs Jaipur Pink Panthers) of which this performance was a part of can easily be said to be the best display of defense in a match in the season so far.
In a match filled with 7 super tackles, Ravi Kumar was the one to watch out for with his 6 tackle points which included 2 Super Tackles (one against Nitin Rawal and another against Deepak Niwas Hooda) that led the Puneri Paltan to their first home victory of the season.
This was the breakthrough moment for Ravi Kumar who continued with his terrific performances with his 12 tackle points in remaining 4 matches of the home leg, including 4 points in the last match against the UP Yoddhas in the absence of Girish Ernak.
He would be a key defensive player for Puneri Paltan as the season progresses and would be vital for their chances in the playoffs.