VIVO Pro Kabaddi | Jaipur Pink Panthers skipper Deepak Hooda lays sole focus on PKL 2021 playoffs qualification

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Those who follow the PKL ardently must be well aware of the plummeting fortunes of season one winners Jaipur Pink Panthers over the years. Just once after their title win have they qualified for the playoffs, which doesn't really justify the enormous talent the team has possessed over the years.

In 2019, after winning seven matches from 10, and having topped the points table for a considerable time, Jaipur failed to progress to the next round, crushing the spirits of the fans, players, and the team management alike. 
No one can forget the bewildered look on team owner Abhishek Bachchan's face, when in a do-or-die match against Telugu Titans, Jaipur fared miserably to lose 31-51, with their skipper Deepak Hooda sustaining a hamstring injury midway through the encounter.
While the disappointment of the previous season is long gone, there are certain things that haven't changed for the Pink Panthers. Nine players from that team are part of this year's roster too, and hence, the hunger and the drive to regain lost reputation is there in abundance. The team management has also retained Deepak as the skipper, which speaks volumes of the faith they have in the all-rounder.
"It is always a big responsibility to lead a side of repute. I have been India captain too and have led Jaipur for three years now, so I'm aware of what my responsibilities are and what the team expects from me. This year the focus is solely on qualifying for the playoffs first, and I don't care about anything else. Not just that, I want to perform to the best of my ability.
"It's a professional league, but Jaipur has become home for me now. The kind of support I get from Abhishek Bachchan is beyond words to describe, which instills a lot of confidence in me. After the management used the FBM card for me during the auctions, he called to congratulate me. Now it's my wish to play for Jaipur as long as I'm in the league," Deepak told SportsCafe in an exclusive interaction. 
The core of Jaipur remains the same, which some of the other teams have not managed to do. Still, all the players are young and don't have much experience. But Deepak looks at it as an added advantage, one which could take the opponents by surprise.
"There is never a disadvantage when you have young players on the side. If you look around in any sport, you always back young talents, and just like that, we need them in our team too. If we talk about the experience only, then I'm there and have played every season of the PKL, then we have added Dharmraj Cheralathan this time around, Amit Hooda is in the team, and of course Sandeep Dhull too. You pick up any team, and that is how teams work," the captain added. 
While Deepak has the most number of raiding points in the team, he would have the company of upcoming raiders like Naveen and Arjun Deshwal, which makes their attack the one to watch out for, if not the best on paper. It also means that this year, Jaipur will have a lot of options to go with, in the tournament, while the ambiguity over the team combination remains.
"No team goes with a fixed strategy; it keeps changing or evolving according to the match situation. So to say, who will be the primary raider of the team, is going to be difficult for now. All I can say is, to have the kind of raiders we have in the team, is a big plus. We look at it this way; the matches haven't started and there are a few players who are knocking on the door to be a part of the playing 7. Whenever the need arises, we can swap players," Deepak concluded.

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