As the season unfolds gradually, favourites U Mumba and last year’s runners-up Bengaluru Bulls have made a good impression with good displays. The fans have had a first glimpse of Puneri Paltan new squad, relatively unchanged former champions Jaipur Pink Panthers and a little off-colour Dabang Delhi. Telugu Titans too impressed in the opener although they went down to the ultimate champions. The focus will now shift towards the two outfits from the East, Bengal Warriors and Patna Pirates.
The Pirates haven’t made a lasting impression yet but have made it to the top four in the previous seasons. They finished third and fourth respectively in the first two editions of the league after being beaten by the ultimate champions in the penultimate round. This season too they are expected to maintain their consistency and like all other participants their aim will be to have a shot at the title. For their neighbours Bengal Warriors, the situation is none-too-happy after the unfruitful campaigns in the league.
With a change in the leadership, they must be hoping that Nilesh Shinde the seasoned campaigner leads by example from the front. The Pirates too have a new skipper in Manpreet Singh and this will allow their stand-in captain Sandeep Narwal to play freely and do justice to his inherent talent.
The Pirates, it must be said to their credit, they performed admirably last season despite losing their talismanic skipper Rakesh Kumar midway. The young Sandeep burdened with all the responsibilities performed below expectations but a good show by raider Ravi Dalal and a few flashes of brilliance by Gurvinder Singh, Sunil Jaipal helped them pip the Dabangs to a semi-final slot. This season they have added some more muscle to their attack and defence.
Dabang Delhi have got hold of Iranian Hadi Oshtorak, the highest paid player of Season 2. He had very few opportunities with the Titans. With Pirates having acquired him, the team will be keen to unleash him at the very first opportunity.
Additionally, the Delhi squad also have Korean Tae Deok Eom in their ranks. This pocket dynamo has speed, power, strength and deception at his command and needs more opportunities to prove his worth. Utilising him in the initial stages of the league will help boost his confidence, an ingredient so important for anyone to blossom. He can become an ace in the pack, much akin to his countryman Jang Kun Lee who has become synonymous with the do-or-die raid.
The team has other utility players like Amit Hooda and Deepak Narwal. Both have enough potential and the veteran coach Balwan Singh, the man who was responsible for India’s supremacy at the Asian Games will definitely guide this comparatively inexperienced team to repeat their earlier performance, if not more.
In the absence of Nitin Madane, the Asian Games star player from Maharashtra, Bengal Warriors brought in former India Captain Dinesh Kumar to lead the side. The move failed to pay dividends and Dinesh had to be finally benched owing to injury and lack of form. Nitin should be fit by now though he may be lacking in top class match practice. A couple of matches are all that he needs to assess himself and set his target.
Nilesh Shinde, their key defender too got grievously injured at a crucial time. This put an end to their aspirations of making it to the top four. A superior point tally helped them pip Dabang Delhi to the fifth place but that was no compensation for the team which had a few good performers in Mahendra Rajput, Jang Kun Lee, Kedar Lal, Girish Ernak who now just need to be consistent to raise the overall level of team play under a fully fit Nilesh.
With no changes in their team they have a settled combination. Two years is good enough a period for any team to prepare and move into top gear and Bengal should be no exception. Kolkata is a place known for its sports culture and Nilesh’s boys under Balwan and their fans do believe they have it in them to follow in the footsteps of Kolkata Knight Riders and Athletico de Kolkata who brought glory to the state and the city.