Vishakapatnam: The mood in the U Mumba camp is one stemming from weeks of preparation and determination."We as a team have always worked hard from Season One. We are positive this season will be a landmark season, both as a franchise and team," says U Sports CEO Supratik Sen. While they cruised through their winning season in pure domination, they are looking to better themselves by defending their Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League title and will continue to display that dominance on the mat as seen in the previous seasons.
All teams have added new players to their sides. A notable inclusion for us being ex India captain Rakesh Kumar. U Mumba derby rivals, Puneri Paltan have Deepak Hooda (previously Telugu Titans), Ajay Thakur and Manjeet Chhillar (both previously Bengaluru Bulls) joining the Pune franchise. Coach Bhaskaran has his feet firmly planted on the ground. "Individually if you look at the teams, they all have good players. The teams have a different look to them this season and it will be interesting to see how everyone plays together. The new additions to the teams will take time to get used to each other's playing style. It remains to be seen if they can all work together as a team."
Not winning two matches last season, U Mumba's magnificent run made everyone wary of how they could turn up this season, with their entire squad pretty much unchanged except for Rakesh Kumar's addition. The South Asian Games taking place in the middle of Season 3 of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi means a few players missing some matches. Once again, the coach reflected the mood of the camp - quiet optimism.
"The players who will miss the matches because of their national duties (Anup Kumar, Mohit Chhillar, Vishal Mane, Surender Nada) are all integral parts of the starting seven. That being said, we have good squad depth to deal with their absence between the 10th and 14th of February. With matches against Bengaluru Bulls, Puneri Paltan and Bengal Warriors, we are confident that players like Rakesh (Kumar), Bhupender (Singh), Shabeer, Jeeva (Kumar) and our Iranian players will step in to continue the U Mumba style of playing. Ultimately, it will depend on the mood of the match on that particular day and how both teams are feeling at that moment."
Being one of the new entrants, in such a strong team, along with two more Iranian players, Rakesh Kumar is unfazed about the chopping and changing experienced by other teams. "As Coach (Bhaskaran) pointed out earlier, all the players who have moved around are talented but it remains to be seen if they can all gel together as a team. Fortunately for me, I know most of my teammates here at U Mumba and I have fit in well into the team. This team is such a perfectly oiled machine, so united, that it will be tough to break us down."
Ronnie Screwvala, upbeat about his side being able to successfully defending their team's title comments, "Kabaddi has been a revelation for us. From here we are only going places."
Defending champions U Mumba take on Telugu Titans at the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Vishakapatnam on the 30th of January at 8pm onwards.