The Seventh season of the Pro Kabaddi League is about to enter the playoffs stage and it is going to be a completely new playoffs format this season after changes in the league stage as well. The league started with 12 teams and now the competition will be among the six remaining sides.
The official broadcasters of the PKL branded the seventh season as the toughest season ever as this was the first time in the history of the league that all the 12 teams played against each other twice in the league stage, unlike the previous two editions. The organisers decided to do away with the zonal format, which was there in the fifth and sixth season, ensuring fair competition between all the 12 teams.
This is the only league in India where there are 12 teams participating and they play 22 matches each in the league stage with the tournament going for around three months. Here the credit goes to the organisers for figuring out a way where various aspects are taken care of starting from the number of matches to fitness of players, broadcasting issues to venues. The league matches were played across the home venues of all the 12 teams and the home team played four games in their respective home legs. This was not the case in the last edition as they had to play six matches which had an adverse impact on the fitness of the players. Playing four matches at home in seven days ensured that the players get proper rest while playing at home.
“The players will get more rest because of this format. Previously we had to play six home matches now we have to play only four. There will not be much physical pressure on the players this time,” Bengaluru Bulls coach Randhir Singh had told SportsCafe before the start of the league.
Another best thing about the league stage this year was that this season there was no anomaly between the teams and it was a fair competition among the teams. Things were different in the previous seasons and we saw that almost all the top raiders of the league apart from Siddharth Desai were in Zone B. There was no fair competition because of the league stage and the teams were allowed to play three matches against some teams and only one against others which created an anomaly in the league. This is a reason many experts and players found the current format much better than the previous one which has zones. Patna Pirates skipper has hailed the new format and said that it is beneficial for the players.
“I like the schedule which has been made for this year. Last time around, we had the zonal system and had to play three matches with some teams and only one with the others. This time there will not be many injuries as last time around the players used to get injured during the home legs. The players will get good rest in this format of the league and will be easy for the players in terms of remaining fit,” Pardeep had said ahead of the league during an interview with SportsCafe.
Now comes the playoffs which will have six teams in total with the top two teams – Bengal Warriors and Dabang Delhi - already booking their place in the semi-finals. Although last season also had six teams in the playoffs, the format for this season is different. There will be no qualifier this year which means that there is no second chance for any of the sides who have made it to the playoffs and one mistake you are out of the tournament. This keeps the very idea of the knock-outs intact and makes the competition even tougher and exciting for the fans. Last year the teams finishing at the top of the table were allowed a second chance and that is what helped Gujarat reach the final despite losing a game in the playoffs to Bengaluru Bulls. So the players need to be very careful and have to give their best in all the games as one small mistake by them will send their team out of the tournament. This playoff format will test the big-match temperament of the kabaddi players.
However, there are many sports experts who complain about the top teams who have done well in the league stage and what advantage do they get by playing so well among the six teams who have qualified. Even during the Cricket World Cup earlier this year, after India lost to New Zealand in the semis, questions were raised why the Indians were not allowed an extra chance in spite of finishing at the top after the league stage.
The organisers have kept that in mind as well and in this season, both Dabang Delhi and Bengal Warriors have directly qualified for the playoffs by finishing one and two on the table. So, this allows the players a good rest in the long and busy season. Apart from that, they have to play one do or die game lesser than the remaining four teams and they are now only one step away from making it to the summit clash. Both Delhi and Bengal will now wait till October 16 to play their next game while the four other teams will play the eliminator matches on October 14.
Extended rest, crisp home legs, fitness of the players and fair competition in the league stage while the thrill of the knock-out matches with some benefits for the top two teams, with a direct entry into the playoffs, make the current format one of the best in the league so far ever since four new teams came into picture in 2017. However, the league will evolve in the near future and it will expand as well. So, we might as well see more teams, longer league and home and away fixtures in the coming days.