At a time when there is a dearth of sporting action in India amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, let us take a look back at the PKL (Pro Kabaddi League) finals in the seven seasons of the competition.
In this article, we take a look at the top five memorable performances by players in the clutchest situation of them all, the PKL Finals. In seven seasons in the PKL, there have been five teams who have won the championship - Jaipur Pink Panthers, U Mumba, Patna Pirates, Bengaluru Bulls and Bengal Warriors. Patna Pirates have won the PKL title an unprecented three times, doing a hat-trick in seasons 3-5 of the competition.
On that note, let us have a look at the five of the best player performances in PKL finals.
Five best player performances in PKL finals
5. Shabeer Bapu - U Mumba - PKL Season 2 Final
Eternal PKL title favourites and one of the most popular teams in the competition, U Mumba faced disappointment in the first season of the PKL when they were outplayed by Jaipur Pink Panthers in the final.
In PKL Season 2, Anup Kumar and co retained their core squad members and dominated proceedings through the league stage to make it to the final against the Bengaluru Bulls, who were a force to reckon with. The Bulls were led by the dominant Manjeet Chillar and had other stars like Ajay Thakur, Dharmaraj Cheralathan and Joginder Narwal.
In the PKL Season 2 final, both sides played a cautious game from the get go but U Mumba edged ahead with a surge towards the end of the first half to lead 16-8 at the whistle.
However, the Bulls clawed their way back into the match, with Manjeet Chillar raiding well along with Rakesh Narwal making an impact after coming off the bench. Ajay Thakur got the crucial all-out with a five-point Super Raid to make it all square at 23 - 23 with seven minutes to go in the PKL Season 2 final.
Shabeer Bapu was a crucial player for the U Mumba side, raiding alongside the young Rishank Devadiga as they supported skipper Anup Kumar. His contribution turned out to be the turning point for U Mumba in the match. In a brilliant effort, he scored a Super Raid in the 36th minute of the PKL Season 2 final to widen the gap between the two teams
Shabeer's fantastic raid turned the tide in favour of the U Mumba squad despite both the sides scoring continuosly to keep the scoreboard ticking. U Mumba clinched eventually clinched their first PKL title with a score of 36 - 30 as Shabeer Bapu finished with a tally of nine raid points and a tackle point.
He was awarded the Best Raider in the PKL Season 2 final and received the Moment of the Match award for his Super Raid as well.
4. Pardeep Narwal - Patna Pirates - PKL Season 4 Final
Patna Pirates became the third team in PKL history to win the title when they beat U Mumba in the final of PKL Season 3.
'Dubki King' Pardeep Narwal who made his mark in the league, had a poor showing with no points in the PKL Season 3 final as Rohit Kumar stole the show in Patna's title win.
However, it was a different story for the talismanic Pirates raider in the next PKL final as he finished with a tally of 115 raid points at the end of the league stage of PKL Season 4.
The final had the stage set at the Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad for a mouth-watering clash as the balanced Jaipur Pink Panthers took on a somewhat raider-heavy Patna Pirates team.
Jaipur were wary of the threat possessed by Pardeep Narwal and managed to take him out in the early minutes of the PKL Season 4 final to gain an advantage powered by Rajesh Narwal's all-round show.
However, Pardeep Narwal was prepared and didn't take much time to impose his authority on the mat. He kept scoring at regular intervals as Patna inflicted two all-outs on the Pink Panthers.
Pardeep Narwal finished the PKL Season 4 final with a tally of 16 raid points, outscoring Jaipur's Jasvr Singh who earned 13 raid points. Narwal stayed true to his hype and delivered a match-winning performance as the Patna Pirates clinched their second PKL title in a row, a feat that had not been achieved by any PKL franchise before them.
3. Vishal Mane - U Mumba - PKL Season 2 Final
Kabaddi is a sport that is dominated largely by the exploits of raiders who clinch points with their bustling moves and bring excitement to the mat. However, defending is a skill that is of utmost importance to any Kabaddi team as the majority of the players usually play in a defensive role.
Vishal Mane is a seasoned defender in the PKL, having played since the inception of the league in 2014. He was a part of the star-studded U Mumba lineup in PKL Season 2 that comprised defensive stalwarts like Surender Nada, Jeeva Kumar and Mohit Chillar.
With the PKL Season 2 final clash set between U Mumba and an equally starry Bengaluru Bulls lineup, the viewers were in for a tactical treat on the mat. With the likes of Anup Kumar, Ajay Thakur, Shabeer Bapu and Manjeet Chillar in action, it was Vishal Mane in the U Mumba defence whose contribution was key for them to clinch the PKL Season 2 crown.
Vishal Mane's sturdy figure in cover defence was a crucial asset for U Mumba as they aimed to contain the raiding threat of Ajay Thakur, Manjeet Chillar, Rakesh Narwal, Rajesh Mondal and Deepak Kumar Dahiya. Mane produced a stellar showing as he used his dashes and blocks to great use and ended up with a High-5 to show for the triumphant night.
With his performance in the PKL Season 2 final, Mane justified the age old adage: Attack wins you matches but defence wins you championships.
2. Mohammad Nabibaksh - Bengal Warriors - PKL Season 7 Final
The most recent edition of the PKL, Season 7, saw a final clash between the top two sides in the league standings as Dabang Delhi KC took on Bengal Warriors in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
Dabang Delhi KC were led by their young superstar Naveen Kumar who was the PKL Season 7's third highest scoring raider behind Pawan Kumar Sehrawat and Pardeep Narwal with a tally of 22 Super 10s to his name. Bengal Warriors too had their own talisman in the lineup, with the sturdy Punjab lad Maninder Singh leading the charge for them.
Dabang Delhi KC started strong and had the lead early on in the match owing to Naveen's prowess on the mat and seemed to be running away at one point with a 8-point lead.
However, Nabibaksh, the stand-in keeper in the absence of Maninder Singh, had different plans. Along with Ravindra Ramesh Kumawat, the Iranian all-rounder helped the Warriors claw their way back into the PKL Season 7 final match as they got an all-out to reduce the deficit to just one point and ended the first half all square at 17 - 17.
Bengal Warriors started strong in the second half as Mohammed Nabibaksh scored his tackle point, as the momentum swayed in his side's favour. The Warriors gained the edge powered by their veteran Jeeva Kumar's performance. Nabibaksh continued to be a problem for the Delhi side and scored at regular intervals to keep things in his side's favour.
With a tactical approach in the final minutes of running down the clock, the Bengal Warriors clinched their first ever PKL title. Nabibaksh ended the match with a tally of ten points - nine raid points and a tackle point to make up for the absence of their star raider Maninder Singh in grand fashion.
1. Pawan Kumar Sehrawat - Bengaluru Bulls - PKL Season 6 Final
The PKL Season 6 final saw the two Zone leaders Gujarat Fortunegiants and Bengaluru Bulls clash for the chance to win their maiden title in the competition as the stage was set at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai, Maharashtra.
Gujarat Fortunegiants reached their second PKL final in a row after having tasted defeat at the hands of Pardeep Narwal's Patna Pirates in Season 5. They were a well-balanced side with two defensive stars, Parvesh Bhainswal and Sunil Kumar in the covers and powered by young raiders Sachin Tanwar and K Prapanjan. Bengaluru Bulls were led by the experienced Rohit Kumar, along with the 'High Flyer' Pawan Kumar Sehrawat by his side.
The two sides began on an equal footing in the initial exchanges of the PKL Season 6 final, but the Gujarat defence made sure that they had the advantage by not letting any of the Bulls' raiders get momentum. Gujarat led 16 - 9 at the end of the first half as Rohit and Pawan both struggled to get points on the board.
However, the second half saw a change in strategy from the Bulls camp as Pawan Sehrawat did the lion's share of raiding. After trailing 12 - 19, Pawan managed to pull back the deficit and take his side to a lead at 25 - 24 following a brilliant 10-raid run. This was perhaps the most dominant spell of raids that a raider has ever displayed in PKL history.
Pawan continued the onslaught on the Gujarat lineup, eventually getting a crucial all-out with three minutes to play as the scoreboard read 36-29 in the Bulls' favour. Sachin Tanwar tried his best to reduce the gap but the deficit was too much to recover for the Fortunegiants as they ended up losing their second PKL final in a row.
Pawan Kumar Sehrawat was adjudged the Best Raider of the Match for his all-time best performance for a raider in a PKL final as he ended with a tally of 22 raid points from 25 attempted raids.