Players in action during Pro Kabaddi Season 7 match between Telugu Titans and Gujarat Fortunegiants at Shaheed Vijay Singh Pathik Sports Complex, Greater Noida on Oct. 7. (IANS photo)

NEW DELHI — The Pro Kabaddi League has entered the final stages of the most competitive and unpredictable season in history and the favorites for the coveted title still cannot be named.

The competitiveness of the ongoing season was highlighted by the fact that teams had to wait till the final leg, currently underway in Greater Noida, to find out the six teams who will make it to the playoffs.

Jaipur Pink Panthers, mid-season table toppers and favorites to seal a playoff berth, lost to Tamil Thalaivas on Oct. 7. Despite some great players in their ranks, the Thalaivas have emerged as the poorest team this season and proved the theory that there are no favorites in the game of Kabaddi.

Six teams — Dabang Delhi KC, Bengal Warriors, Haryana Steelers, UP Yoddha, U Mumba and Bengaluru Bulls — will fight it out among themselves for the trophy, having already secured the playoff slot.

Delhi and Bengal have secured direct qualifications to the semi-final on virtue of being the first and second in the league but UP Yoddha's form in the second half of the season (11 wins in their last 12 matches) and U Mumba's defense peaking at the right time means one is in for more surprises in the playoff stage.

Despite strong performances from individual raiders such as Naveen Kumar, Pardeep Narwal and Pawan Sehrawat, the defenders have had a bigger say in the ongoing season.

Teams have opted for aggressive strategies, often playing with an extra defender, to force the raiders into making a risky move or wait it out till the Do-or-Die raids.

At all stages this season, the defenders outdid their numbers from the previous two seasons. At the end of 4 legs, the average tackle points was 20.4 for this season as opposed to 19.7 and 18.1 in season 6 and 5 respectively. The trend continued and at the end of 11 legs, the average tackle points was 20.1 (19.9 in season 6 and 18.4 in season 5).

On the other hand, the top raiders who flourished regardless of the defensive approach were Pardeep Narwal (302), Pawan Sehrawat (295), Naveen Kumar (256), Maninder Singh (205) and Siddharth Desai (202) crossing the 200-point mark. What is staggering is how both Pardeep and Siddharth racked up these points for teams who failed to qualify for the playoffs which meant they spent more time in the dugouts than their competitors).

Pardeep contributed to 68 percent of Patna Pirates' raid points this season but unfortunately, no other raider managed to secure a Super 10 for Patna in the entire season. Siddharth faced similar problems with backups with all the other Telugu raiders averaging less than five points per match.

It was also a dismal show by star raider Rahul Chaudhari, who had his poorest performance in the history of the league with an average raid points of 5.7 (his previous lowest was 6.7 in season 3). He also failed in 28 per cent of his raids - a far cry from his Telugu Titans days where he was nearly unstoppable.

Sandeep Dhull (73), Sumit (65), Fazel Atrachali (64), Surjeet Singh (63) and Nitesh Kumar (62) lead the chart for tackle points this season. Just like in the raiding department, two of the defenders in the top five - Sandheep and Surjeet - secured these personal milestones for teams (Jaipur Pink Panthers and Puneri Paltan respectively) who failed to rally around their superstars to secure a playoff berth.

Overall, a tight and tough play-off week is expected with each of the four teams trying to deliver their best to enter the semis of the league this year.

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