Kolkata: All attention will be on how defending champions U Mumba cope tomorrow with their key players on national duty, as they take on Bengaluru Bulls at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indoor stadium in Season Three of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi.
U Mumba captain Anup Kumar has been appointed the captain of the Indian national team for the South Asian Games and will miss three fixtures, tomorrow against the Bulls and in the Pune leg against Puneri Paltan and Bengal Warriors. Defenders Mohit Chhillar, Surender Nada and Vishal Mane have also been called up for the matches that will take place in Guwahati from the 11th to the 15th of February.
While coach E Bhaskaran is realistic about the importance of these players, he feels pride in their national selection. "We are the only team in the league that has 4 players going to play for the national team. It is a big honour for us that these players have been recognised to represent their country at the South Asian Games. While we will definitely miss them (in the upcoming three games), we wish them the best of luck in the tournament."
Sitting at 5th place in the league table, losing 4 key players at a crucial moment in the tournament might not be ideal. One feature of the U Mumba squad has always been its exceptional depth which will be needed if they wish to climb up the table and defend the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi title successfully. The defence, in particular, will need bolstering as the Mohit-Surender partnership has always reaped rewards for the Mumbai team even when their attack is struggling. The men in orange and black have always played as a balanced unit and will need to work on maintaining that balance with players like Bhupender Singh, Fazel Atrachali and Pawan Kumar who could get a start in the absence of the regular players.
The Patna loss shook the camp and the coach points out that while team confidence did take a hit, they didn't dwell on the loss too much. "We lost that day because we played badly. Our raiding in particular needs to improve especially in the first 10 minutes of the game. After that loss, we have worked hard on our mistakes in the practice sessions. We don't want to put extra pressure on ourselves by continuously thinking about that game, it might make distract us from the upcoming games. We are well prepared and we will ensure that those mistakes are not repeated."
One aspect of their opponent, Bengaluru Bulls, that the coach reiterated is their ability to surprise everyone. "If you look at their two wins (against Puneri Paltan and Jaipur Pink Panthers), they were fighting wins and their strength showed through those victories. Their defender Ashish Sangwan is fast and covers a lot of ground while their raiders Surjeet Narwal and Amit Rathi go deep in the opponent's den. We have prepared well for those scenarios and will do our best when we take the mat tomorrow." While the coach does sound optimistic, the defending champions will be tested on their resilience and determination to close out matches without their core players present.