Mumbai: It was a perfect opening to U Mumba's season as they routed Jaipur Pink Panthers for a 4th consecutive time, winning the season opener 36-34 due to vice captain Rakesh Kumar's brilliant all round performance. Former U Mumba player Shabeer Bapu threatened to resign U Mumba to an opening defeat but a solid defence and thrilling comeback saw the Season 3 finalists ring out winners.
The first half saw U Mumba begin in a blistering fashion, racing to 4-0 after a classic Anup Kumar opening raid that saw him earn a bonus point and Rakesh Kumar a point for himself. Jaipur's Tushar Patil ran into the lobby while Rajesh Narwal was tackled during a do or die raid. The MVP from Season 3, Rishank Devadiga managed to get one over his former teammate Shabeer Bapu while the U Mumba defence, led by Jeeva Kumar, kept Jaipur captain Jasvir Singh subdued for the entirety of the first half.
The men in orange would have secured an all-out sooner if it were not for Ajay Kumar who saved Jaipur from two all outs. Ultimately they were able to secure the first all out on the 15th minute when Jeeva tackled Amit Hooda, the last man standing with the score 13-5. Upon their return, Jasvir was once again tackled but upon review, it was seen that Jasvir had stepped out into the lobby without being touched but three U Mumba defenders had gone out as well.
This saw the score go to 15-9 and a comeback from the Jaipur outfit. A couple of successful raids from Shabeer saw the Mumbai outfit reduced to its three raiders who then staved off an all out just before half time by effecting a super tackle on Jasvir brought about by Rakesh. But Shabeer was charged up and ensured that at half time, when the score was 20-12, only Anup and Rakesh were remaining.
The second half saw the U Mumba defence unable to contain Shabeer who was churning out successful raids which saw the first all out for U Mumba come in the 21st minute itself with the score 21-16. Both Anup and Rishank were unsuccessful in trying to gain points while Shabeer was outfoxing his state teammate Jeeva who had no answer for him. Rajesh Narwal secured a touch point on Jeeva, equalling the score at 22 all. The second all out for U Mumba soon came in the 29th minute when Gurvinder Singh, brought on for Sunil Kumar, tried to delay the inevitable but it was Shabeer once again who secured the all out with the score 23-26.
At this moment, coach Bhaskaran made two substitutions with Surender Singh coming in for Gurvinder and Sunil Kumar coming in for Manoj Dhull. The belief was still there for U Mumba who then saw a spirited comeback with Sunil leading the way in defence along with Surjeet while Rakesh worked his magic while raiding. The score equalled to 28 all when Sunil tackled Jawahar and the lead kept shifting sides until a fantastic pursue raid by Rakesh that saw him eliminate Tushar Patil while raiding and tackle Jasvir in defence to secure a 2nd all out in the dying minute of the match. Two raids later and the result was inevitable with U Mumba running out 36-34 winners.
Commenting on the close win, captain Anup Kumar was confident Surjeet would grow into his role as right cover. "Surjeet hasn't trained with us much but he is a good defender so with time, he will make that position his own." When asked about the influence of his former teammate Shabeer on the game, Anup mentioned his respect for the raider. "We knew how good Shabeer could be when he is fit and today he showed his class. He's one of the best raiders in the country and he will definitely trouble other teams."