A BREATHTAKING FINISH to a rope-tight contest, and a memorable display of bravado from capatain Manjeet Chillar made for a thrilling last home game for the Puneri Paltan, which they ended in an incredible 27-27 tie with Dabang Delhi; the first of this season.
Delhi began the game with some early lead built-up, with both their raiding and defence working efficiently. Kashiling Adake and Deepak Narwal ran successful raids and the defenders managed to trap two main raiders of Pune: Sonu Narwal and captain Manjeet Chillar. Soon Delhi had a 0-5 lead but the momentum broke when an individual error handed Pune raider Deepak Niwas Hooda an easy touch. Then Deepak Narwal got caught and Manjeet Chillar announced his return to the mat with two successful raids. 5-5.
Delhi began to re-build that lead wit a successful raid from Kashiling and a well-timed super tackle on Manjkeet Chillar to make it 5-8. But Pune had a reply ready: back to back raids from Nitin Tomar scored a point with an acrobatic jump over a defender and when Kashiling came raiding Joginder Narwal grabbed him from the back and pulled him away from the touch-line. With Delhi now down to 1 man, it was easy pickings in the next raid for Nitin to get the all-out. Pune were back in front, 10-8.
The home team continued to build on the lead as soe momentum hit their sail. Sonu Narwal and Deepak Niwas got touches, and they trapped Kashiling and Deepak Narwal. Delhi, once again dwindling with just 3 on the mat, managed to produce a super tackle to net Deepak Niwas to make it 14-10.
And then, Selvamani K, who came on for Dabang Delhi in the last minutes of the previous game, was brought on 17 minutes in to replace Sachin Shingade. And the effect was imediately visible. His first raid got him a touch, and his second saw two Pune defenders attempt a risky tackle on him but in the ending up with nothing but light touches. At half-time, Delhi had more or less closed the deficit, with Pune leading only by 2 points at 15-13.
In the second half, the game progressed neck-to-neck. Selvamani and Meraj Sheykh got raid points for Delhi while Deepak Niwas and Manjeet Chillar were doing their job for Pune. The Paltans' Ajay Thakur, after being introduced earlier, remained mostly anonyous most of the time until he got a bit too adventurous on the raid and was trapped. Meraj Sheykh followed it up with a touch and made the score 18-18 with 10 minutes left.
Pune's Manjeet Chillar ran a double-touch successful raid then got caught. Then Sonu Narwal also got a touch and they trapped Selvamani for the first time in the game. But Nitin Tomar also allowed himself to get caught by the Delhi defence in a moment of error and suddenly, with 3 minutes left, the match was on a breath-stopping 23-23.
Kashiling's bad form continued even in the game's dying moments. He got trapped. Then Deepak Niwas ran a fairly successful raid to make it 25-23 with 2 minutes left. Delhi now needed something radical to get back into the game, and that's just what Deepak Narwal produced. Swarmed by 3 Pune defenders, he managed to flip backwards and land a foot beyond the centre line. A memorable super raid at the very death of the game. Energeized, Delhi defenders managed to catch Deepak Niwas too. 39 minutes in, Dabang Delhi were now within touching distance of their first victory of the season, leading 25-27.
Delhi only had to play safe from here to clinch the win. So Pune captain Manjeet Chillar deciced to try something new. After getting a touch and making it 26-27, he decided not to eat up the 30-odd remaining seconds with his raid, so he cut it short and came back, forcing Delhi to make one last raid.
Meraj Sheykh came raiding and the entire stadium flipped out, realising this was a do-or-die raid. This meant the shrewd Chillar had put the onus of initiative on Delhi; now Sheykh would have to at least get a touch, otherwise Delhi would give away their one point advantage. But here he made a mistake, lingering a moment too long deep in the Pune half of the match. Manjeet got behind him and grabbed him by the shoulder so hard he could not move; a pure wrestling-style move that became the highlight of the evening. The tackle was swift, clean and brutal. The point was taken, and the match was over, with the result being a jaw-dropping tie.
The Dabang Delhi players must be kicking themselves for letting go of this golden opportunity to register a win. They did not do well against Bengal Warriors last night, but tonight they looked more composed and could really have boosted their chances with a win from the from the first stopover of the season.
Puneri Paltan, meanwhile, looked overcome with fatigue after playing 4 nights in a row. Injury concerns are also abound as Ajay Thakur remained mostly absent tonight, robbing them of the lethal duo that got them their first two wins. But they will take the tie; it showed great mentality from the team and especially Chillar to not give up and take calculated risks to grind out a favourable result from a decidedly disadvantageous position. And this spirit will be something that will come handy going ahead in the seaoson.
Both teams will now get a much needed breather as the Pro Kabaddi caravan moves to Jaipur, home of the Pink Panthers. And they will need to use it to rest up and carry the momentum from the good show they put on tonight forward.