A ROUTINE DOMINATION was made more special when Patna Pirate captain-defender Dharmaraj Cheralathan led a desperate fight under a threat of an all-out to ensure that the defending champions got a massive 35-21 win against Bengal Warriors and got to the top of the PKL table.
Initially, there was some competition from Bengal. Monu Goyat got a touch, and when Pardeep Narwal and Rakesh Mondal helped Patna take an early lead, Nitin Madane ran two successful raids, followed by a trapping of Pardeep Narwal by Bengal defenders. 8 minutes in, the fight was reasonably equal at 4-4.
But this is where the defending champions began their ascent. Monu Goyat was caught, Rajesh and Pardeep got touches. Nitin got a point back for Bengal but by now the Warriors were down to one man on the mat. Ravi Dalal made a make-or-break, got the bonus, and was caught. he first all-out was complete 12 minutes into the game and the score was 12-6 in favour of the home team.
Once the bases were re-loaded, the Bengal defenders took some initiative. They captured Pardeep and Rajesh. Ravi Dalal got a point too and so did Monu Goyat. Patna's Abolfazel Maghsodlo ran a good raid before he too fell into the defenders' trap. Nitin Madane got a successful raid for Bengal before Pardeep striked back with a double point raid to finish the half on an upbeat note. At half-time, the Pirates' momentum was somewhat muffled, but they still lead 17-12.
And Bengal had their key to a comeback: Patna were down to 2 men. An all-out was going to get the Warriors level. Monu Goyat got started on that, getting a touch, and reducing Patna to one man. But Pardeep Narwal came raiding and got a touch, increasing the number to two. Monu went raiding again, aiming for a touch, but the other Pirate on the mat - Dharmaraj Cheralathan - pounced on him and held him down. The super tackle made the score 21-13.
Pardeep went raiding. He was caught. Now Patna were down to 2 again. But then Nitin came raiding and Dharmaraj put a super tackle on him too. Next it was Patna's Abolfazel to go get caught by the Bengal defenders and reduce the Pirates to 2 again. And surprise surprise, when Monu raided, Dharmaraj trapped him on a super tackle yet again. The Pirates were low in number but their lead was increasing. 31 minutes now, they were 25-15 ahead.
Pirates' Sunny was caught by Bengal defenders. So it was Abolfazel's turn to pull a super raid, this time on Ravi Dalal. A long time later the raiders accomplished something: Rajesh and Nitin got a point for their teams each, but when Nitin came next time Dharmaraj super-tackled him again. The inability of the Bengal raiders to figure out Dharmaraj had descended to an embarrassing level, and the Pirates were now leading 30-18 with 5 minutes left.
Bengal never looked like they were going to make a comeback. Monu got trapped again and so did Ravindra Ramesh Kumavat. Rajesh got a point out of a lethargic, time-passing raid and the Pirates comfortably saw the clock out sealing a 35-21 victory. With 5 wins out of 5, Patna de-throned U Mumba from the top of the table spot that they had earned an hour ago and ascended there with 25 points to their name.
That Patna, the defending champions and hot favourites, would beat Bengal warriors was more or less expected. But the way the victory came, with a couple of defenders led by Dharmaraj pulling off super tackle after super tackle, defying the threat of an all-out and actually using the low numbers to their advantage, was a treat for every fan in the stadium. The Pirates are a well-balanced squad, but often the raiders take the centre-stage while the defenders play a supporting role in their victories. But this was one game where was it not for the bravado of a very special defenders, the match may have turned.
It's fitting that Patna captain Dharmaraj Cheralathan, with his 9 tackle points, can make this victory memorable with the fact that he now holds the record of earning the highest number of tackle points by a single player in a match in the history of Pro Kabaddi.