Dreams do come true; all you have to do is believe in yourself. With this belief in themselves, the Jaipur Pink Panthers, ran riot in the inaugural season of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) lifting the trophy at the end of the season.
The team, as the name suggests, is based in Jaipur, also known as the Pink City of India. The team is owned by popular Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan. The team was coached by Kasinathan Bhaskaran. The team played its home matches at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.
The team was led by Navneet Gautam, a multi-talented decorated legend of the game. He was part of the gold-winning teams at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, 2010 and 2014 Asian Games and the 2010 and 2014 Asian Indoor Games. He was also conferred with the Arjuna award in 2007.
They won an astonishing 10 of the 14 matches – the most by any team – they played in the league stage, finishing top of the pile. They lost just 3 matches and drew a solitary game as they racked up 54 points in the league stage.
The team had many talented players like Navneet Gautam (Captain), Maninder Singh, Jasvir Singh, Rajesh Narwal, Balbir Singh, Prashant Chavan and Rohit Rana. They also had Wei Yang from Taiwan to give them a foreign flavour.
Complete domination by Jaipur Pink Panthers
With a total of 12 wins and 609 points, the most by any team, Jaipur Pink Panthers were the most deserving team to take the title home. And they very well did so.
They announced their arrival in the league in the very first match, when they faced U Mumba. The match was dominated by Mumbai in all departments, and they won the match 45-31. They won their first match in Kolkata against Telugu Titans 46-32. However, they registered a comprehensive victory against Patna Pirates as they annihilated the team from Bihar 40-18 and carried on their good run, posting wins over Dabang Delhi, Telugu Titans and Bengal Warriors.
They were involved in the most one-sided encounter of the tournament alongside Puneri Paltan. The Panthers came out winners with the scoreline reading 50-23 and that remained their biggest victory (in terms of margin) in the tournament.
When the caravan moved to Jaipur, they enthralled the home crowd winning 3 and drawing 1 out of the 4 matches played. They got the better of Bengaluru Bulls, Dabang Delhi and Puneri Paltan and although they drew against U Mumba 31-31, the fans would not have been disappointed watching such dominating kabaddi by the men in pink.
Their other two losses in the league came against Bengaluru Bulls (in the last match) by a narrow 30-29 scoreline and Patna Pirates where they lost 52-30.
In the semi-final match against Patna Pirates, they were a force to reckon with, as they blew away the Pirates with a dominating display of true grit and professionalism. The match was surprisingly one-sided, as Jaipur went on to qualify for the finals with the final score reading 38-18.
The final played at NSCI Indoor Stadium between Jaipur Pink Panthers and U Mumba was watched by the whole country. There were a lot of hopes and expectations riding on the Panthers, seeing their performance in the group stages. And they did not disappoint. The final, for Jaipur Pink Panthers, was what dreams are made of. Leading 18-14 in the first half, they went on to win the match 35-24, much to the disappointment of U Mumba, the losing finalists.
Playing as a team
It was an all-around, team performance for the Jaipur Pink Panthers as despite winning the league, as although not having the top player in the defenders or raiders list, they dominated the league throughout. In the top 20 list of top raiders and defenders, they had the most number of representatives with 3 raiders and 4 defenders.
Rohit Rana (37 points) finished fifth in the list of top defenders of Season 1. He was backed up by Prashant Chavan (33 points), Rajesh Narwal (25 points) and Ran Singh (25 points). They had some crafty raiders in Maninder Singh (130 points) who finished third in the list of top raiders. Jasvir Singh (106 points) and Rajesh Narwal (72 points) ably supported him.
Their most successful player was the hard-working all-rounder Rajesh Narwal, who gave everything he had for his team. He had the hunger to win, just like his team-mates, and he ended up with 72 points as a raider and 25 points as a defender.
The team also had their owner Abhishek Bachchan, who supported them and cheered them on in every match. But most of all, it was their fans who motivated and inspired them to win the league. With high expectations riding on them to repeat their performance in the second season as well, the team has been working very hard and preparing themselves to become champions again.
However, other teams will want to take the mantle from Jaipur Pink Panthers. So, they would have to be on their toes if they want to retain the title this time around.