Like he had all night, Pardeep Narwal strutted into the Gujarat Fortunegiants’ half with the same swagger as that of an assassin. His team was on the brink of greatness, largely due to him, and he was not about to let the moment pass.

After teasing Right Corner Abozar Mohajermighani for about five seconds, the raider took off to the other side of the mat, got the touch on Sunil Kumar, stood near the midline for close to a second, looked backed at the hapless defence, raised his finger almost to signal, ”And that’s that.” And it was.

Pardeep set up the All Out that would give Patna Pirates an unsurmountable 17-point lead and a few minutes later, the team were crowned champions of Pro Kabaddi Season 5, their third title on the trot.

Pardeep was then named the league’s Best Raider as well as the Most Valuable Player, becoming the first and, till date, the only player to win both awards as well as the league title. The Dubki King scored 369 points that season, 150 more than next-best Rohit Kumar.

And even then, the Patna Pirates had to go through two eliminators and a qualifier to make it to the final, which does baffle the mind, considering they also had Monu Goyat in the roster, who himself scored 191 raid points that season.

However, that was the writing on the wall for Patna Pirates’ problems that have since only grown larger despite Pardeep’s unmatched genius.

Poor squad selection

Post signing Pardeep in Season 3, Patna Pirates had managed to build a squad around him that was well-balanced in both offence and defence.     

Their three-pronged raiding attack consisting of Pardeep, Rohit Kumar and Manpreet Singh was equipped to dismantle any defence that came in their way and they did just that en route to their maiden title.

In Season 4, captain Dharmaraj Cheralathan and Iranian duo Fazel Atrachali and Hadi Oshtorak formed a feared defensive trio that allowed Pardeep to go full throttle in attack and be unconcerned about being revived. Raiding partner Goyat gave Pardeep the security blanket he needed in Season 5 to go berserk in his search for points and that helped him deliver the greatest individual season in Pro Kabaddi history.

That hasn’t been the case over the past two campaigns.

Patna Pirates' mediocre defence scored just 201 tackle points in Season 6, which ranked ninth in the league, and in attack, bar Pardeep, the raiding unit failed to make any sort of substantial impact, with only Manjeet making any sort of dent in the proceedings.

Even with those grave concerns, Pardeep managed to pile 233 raid points and carried the team to within a victory of a playoff spot, only for them to blow it all against Gujarat Fortunegiants in their final Zone B game and miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Pardeep though, picked up his second-straight Best Raider award and there was hope that perhaps this season was nothing more than a blip for the Pirates.

It wasn’t. And the signs were evident right after the auction.

The Pirates' strategy in the auction left everyone bewildered. They opted to sign veteran Left Corner Surender Nada for 77 lakhs, their most expensive purchase in the auction, and that despite having Jaideep who had been the team’s most successful defender in each of the previous two campaigns.

Nada, who fractured his arm at the start of Season 6, had been on the sidelines for months and ended up missing the entirety of Season 7 after aggravating the fracture that he suffered and proving to be money down the drain for the Pirates.

In attack, the Pirates signed veteran raider South Korean Jang Kun Lee, who ranked 20th and 24th in the league’s raid point scoring list in Season 5 and 6 respectively and was evidently on the decline. They also purchased Iranian Mohammad Maghsoudlou for a hefty price tag, but he too provided very little in terms of support.

With an average defence and a mediocre raiding unit, Pardeep yet again was left to carry his team to victory on his own, and while the 23-year-old did as much as he could, the team was set up for failure right from the go and finished eighth in the league standings, missing the playoffs for the second year running.

Despite scoring 302 raid points, Pardeep could neither win the Best Raider award, which was clinched by Pawan Sehrawat, nor the MVP, awarded to Dabang Delhi K.C.’s Naveen Kumar, and the onus falls on the Pirates’ management and coaching staff, who have purchased poorly in the auction and let their superstar down for two years running.

While Pardeep may not seem like it on the mat, he too is mortal. And unless the Pirates realise that and give the Dubki King a team worthy of challenging for the title, their barren run is bound to carry on a tad longer.

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