Top 5 youngsters from season 9 of the Pro Kabaddi League

Every edition of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL 9) unearths a new bunch of talented young men who assure you that the future of the sport is in safe hands. Whether it was Naveen Kumar taking the League by storm in season six or Mohammadreza Shadloui Chiyaneh’s stunning display last year, each season presents a new crop of stars.

A little over mid-way into PKL 9, ESPN takes a look at five youngsters who’ve dazzled this year –

Narender Kandola – Tamil Thalaivas

Who? Tamil Thaliavas’ lead raider this year.

What has he done? Seamlessly taken over raiding responsibilities in Pawan Kumar Sehrawat’s absence. He’s scored 169 raid points in 16 matches and is the season’s fifth-best raider.

Why is it important? He’s a man for all seasons. No matter the opposition, no matter the match situation, he’s delivered time and again. He averages 10.5 raid points each game, which has allowed Tamil Thalaivas to stay in the race for a playoff spot.

When did he join the team? He made his debut this season. Imagine training in the camp to be a support raider to THE Pawan and then the latter goes off injured? Narender has shown tremendous composure to lead his side’s charge. He’s soft-spoken and shy, but on the mat, his raiding does all the talking.

Where does he fit in the team? Death, taxes and Narender in the starting 7 – the certainties of life. He’s irreplaceable in the Thalaivas setup.

Akash Shinde – Puneri Paltan

Who? The latest export of the Puneri Paltan school of raiding.

What has he done? He came to the fore when Aslam Inamdar, the side’s lead raider was injured, and excelled with a couple of match-winning performances. So much so that he has replaced Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibabkhsh, who won PKL 7 with Bengal Warriors, in the starting 7.

Why is it important? He gives skipper Fazel Atracali a chance to rotate his strike raiders, Aslam and Mohit Goyat. Aslam and Mohit do the bulk of the raiding and Aslam tends to relegate himself to the bench with a silly tackle ever so often. That’s when Akash steps in as he wins the raid points that not only keeps the scoreboard ticking but also revives Aslam. Plus, he’s the third component of Puneri Paltan’s raiding troika.

When did he join the team? He’s another PKL debutant. Fresh from Puneri Paltan’s youth academy – Yuva Paltan.

Where does he fit in the team? He fits right into the core of the Puneri Paltan raiding unit and plays the all-important role of reviving his raiders – he has a raiding success ratio of 1:2 and an impressive not-out percentage of 78%.

Rohit Tomar – UP Yoddhas

Who? UP Yoddha’s go-to man in clutch situations.

What has he done? Won them points when Pardeep Narwal or Surender Gill struggled on the mat. He scored a solid Super 10 [16 points in total] in UP Yoddhas’ tie with Bengal Warriors and even got a High 5 against Gujarat Giants this week. The same day Pardeep Narwal crossed 1500 raid points.

Why is it important? Because he offers coach Jasvir Singh a reliable third raiding option, and is not only properly quick but also a wily customer.

When did he join the team? Last season, but played only five games. He enjoyed more game time in PKL 9 and has justified every minute he has played. He can throw in a mean tackle too, mind you.

Where does he fit in the team? A traditional super-sub [UP Yoddhas’ own Chicharito!] but can also play as the tertiary raider in a three-pronged raiding unit.

Ankush – Jaipur Pink Panthers

Who? Jaipur Pink Panthers’ pillar on the left corner. He may not look at it, but he’s a proper powerhouse.

What has he done? Fortified the Panthers’ defense and has taken down the best of raiders with his trademark ankle holds. Was the League’s best defender at one point (is now one point shy of the orange sleeve) and remains the Panthers’ best defender of PKL 9. He’s got better stats than the side’s captain Sunil Kumar (#14 on the list of tackle points in PKL history).

Why is it important? The Panthers’ defense has been a massive cause of concern this season and Ankush has been the saving grace. He’s literally scored one-third of the team’s tackle points (56 of 168).

When did he join the team? This is his first season in PKL. He’s surely here to stay and should soon take over the reins of the left-corner position in the Indian team as well.

Where does he fit in the team? What he lacks in height he makes up for with his strength. And he isn’t shy to reprimand his raiders if they err: Ankush giving the death stare to Rahul Chaudhari for missing a raid point is a sight to behold. He’s a complete performer, the Panthers would be lost without him.

Parteek Dahiya – Gujarat Giants

Who? Gujarat Giants’ find of the season and second-best raider. And Deepak Niwas Hooda’s nephew.

What has he done? Stepped up when the senior raiders failed to deliver. He’s been a breath of fresh air in Ram Meher Singh’s defence-oriented lineups and has proven to be a capable backup option. He’s got excellent reach, superb footwork and good upper-body strength, which explains why he’s listed as an all-rounder.

Why is it important? He’s the team’s second-best raider and has outperformed the likes of skipper Chandran Ranjith. Gujarat Giants lacked a reputed raider this season [as they did last season] and Parteek has caught onto that opportunity.

When did he join the team? This season. Another fresh face. There’s just something about Gujarat Giants bringing on board well-performing debutants every year – Rakesh HS last year and Parteek this time around.

Where does he fit in the team? He’s effectively the team’s secondary raider now. With Chandran in a slump and Rakesh also misfiring, Parteek will play a crucial role in Gujarat Giants’ meek hopes of making it to the playoffs.

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