PUNERI PALTAN bowed out of the Pro Kabaddi season 5 in the Eliminator stage after finishing third in the Zone A points table.
Puneri Paltan coach BC Ramesh expressed his delight after making it to the Qualifiers for the third time in a row. The veteran spoke about the team's weakness, assets and a lot more.
Q: What was Pune's key highlight of season 5?
Ramesh: Puneri Paltan as a team performed very well in season 5. Third time in a row the team qualified for the playoffs which speak a lot about the potential of the team. Until last season Puneri Paltan had never won a match against U Mumba, and this year we managed to defeat them in all three Maharashtra Derby matches. Captain Deepak Hooda crossed 400 raid point mark and Sandeep Narwal has secured the second position in the list of top three all-rounders of season 5. Puneri Paltan is on the top spot when it comes to a maximum number of do-or-die raid points and tackle points in season 5.
Q: How do you rate Pune's performance?
Ramesh: The team has given a top class performance in the season with a good track record. Out of the 24 matches, we played in Season 5 including the eliminator matches, we only lost 8 matches. The team was consistent with their performance and capitalized well on the winning momentum. Although it was a three-month long season, we managed to pull it off with minimal injuries.
Q: What is your take on the 13-week long season? What were the pro and cons of it?
Ramesh: Every sports league in India, be it IPL or ISL lasts for at least 2-3 months and the audience enjoys watching it. Pro Kabaddi League has packaged in a way that it appeals to the audience. The format of PKL is short and sweet. Every match lasts for only 40 mins, so the attention span of viewers is high. The interesting fact is that PKL has the second largest viewership in India after cricket. This year there were 12 teams playing, and we had home leg matches in every city. The league was scheduled in such a way that every team got to rest properly before playing the next match.
Since Kabaddi is a contact sport, the chances of injury were high. We had to get through the entire season with minimal injuries. One challenge was to build and maintain the stamina and fitness of players for 3 months.
Q: Which player do you regard as the biggest asset from the season?
Ramesh: All players in the team had put their best foot forward for the season. One of the biggest asset was Deepak Hooda. Deepak was the only player that the management retained from last season and he has proven his worth. Even though this was Deepak’s first stint as a captain, he did very well. Deepak was aggressive in his approach, but after the responsibility of captaincy, Deepak changed his approach and his game. He handled the team very well during both ups and downs. Even after we lost to Patna Pirates in the eliminator match, Deepak consoled the entire team and appreciated them for their performances during the season.
Q: What were the strengths and weaknesses of the team?
Ramesh: The diverse pool of talented players was our biggest strength. We had raiders like Deepak Hooda, Rajesh Mondal, and Monu who helped us score points. At the same time, our defence was strong with Dharmaraj, Ziaur, and Girish. Sandeep was a brilliant all-rounder who contributed to offense and defence. Young players like Monu and Rinku too played a crucial role in winning matches. Young player Akshay Jadhav also gave his best performance whenever opportunity was given to him.
One area where I feel we need to work on is, we have to stop giving away points during the last crucial 5-10 minutes of the match as we have had to face quite a few close encounters in the league because of this.
Q: Did you believe that Pune went wrong with its strategy against Patna Pirates? If yes, how differently would the Paltans approach the game?
Ramesh: Our strategy was carefully devised. We knew that Patna had two remarkable raiders who were a threat to us, therefore, we had tightened our defence. Dharmaraj, Girish, and company held the defence closely while Deepak, Rajesh and Akshay scored points for us. We took on Pardeep twice and put Patna in a vulnerable position. The match was heavily tilted in Pune’s favour at the end of the third quarter. Pardeep Narwal made a comeback with 4 points and that is when the match took a turn and we lost our momentum. In the time-out before last 6 minutes, I asked the team to play strategically with a calm mind and not be too confident about the lead. I advised the team to play patiently for bonus points and maintain the lead. Due to few miscalculations and mistakes in the last few minutes, we lost the match.
Q: What are the changes that Pune will be looking at, ahead of season 6?
Ramesh: All the players in the team played quite well this season. Ahead of season six, we would be looking to tighten our right and left covers. As far as raiders are concerned we will need our raiders to be quick on their feet and score bonus points for us. It is difficult to talk about the squad for PKL season 6 as season 5 got over recently and the auction for next season is quite far.
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