Aren’t surprises more fun than what is expected? Here’s a perfect example – UP Yoddha’s thrilling journey in ProKabaddi was made way more special after they qualified for playoffs despite stuttering midway through to the tournament. Yes, the path was not smooth for our Yoddha as they went in the hunt for the trophy. But as they say, what does not kill you, makes you stronger – Yoddha were thrown into stern tests which only bettered them at the end.
Our start to the 2018 season was no less than a blast – hosts Tamil Thalaivas had just taken down Patna Pirates – the three-time champions. We were confident, but aware of the challenge that lay ahead of us. Our all-round performance got us through our initial huddle with ease – we registered 37-32 against the Thalaivas.
However, we failed to carry forward the momentum and faced a trail of defeats right after – twice against Patna Pirates and once against Telugu Titans. Amidst hard times, the team drew inspiration from the likes of Rishank Devadiga – who was consistent day-after-day, or Shrikant, who stole 17 points against Pirates in our 43-47 defeat. Finally, Prashant’s 13 points against Bengal lifted the team – Yoddha settled for a 40-all tie.
With back-to-back victories from the next two fixtures and a lot of positivity, we headed to our home leg. Yoddha’s home-leg was extremely special this season as it coincided with the festival of lights – Diwali.
Despite heroics, the home leg did not prove to be as fruitful as one would imagine. Two ties in five matches and no victory at all was our stay at Greater Noida summed up. However, there were positives we picked from these matches. We saw the team step up in the absence of our captain, Rishank, who suffered an injury that would go on to cause problems for him throughout the rest of the season. Prashanth and Shrikant tried their level best to make up for the void. But, most importantly, we found the brightest star among the Yoddha clan – Nitesh Kumar.
The tie against Bengal Warriors in our home-leg was a big boost to our confidence – in form of a respite amidst failed attempts, and also because the captain of the ship made a successful recovery from his injury and pulled off a ‘Super-10 performance’. Nitesh’s performances made him one of the most dangerous right corners around. Raiders dreaded going in his vicinity, but the defenders on left were not harmless as well. Our defense proved to be among the best in the season, but raiders were yet to get back their flawless form. Strings of injury struck the squad, with Prashanth and Shrikant, too, sitting out in few games to revive their health.
Nitesh kept scoring big and became invincible with every match. This, again, acted as an elixir. This – the phenomenon of individuals lifting the team with their respective performances – was Yoddha’s key to the success that we tasted later.
While November was disappointing for the camp, the energy changed drastically as we entered December. We fought hard against Haryana Steelers to finally break the jinx and register a victory after nine matches. The Steelers were not having the best of the seasons themselves and having to fight to the end of our strengths was proof that we had a long road ahead before becoming one of the strongest to claim our share on the trophy. Nevertheless, it was great to see Shrikant and Prashanth deliver at the time of need and Sachin eventually become a handy all-rounder who could fetch surprise points in raids as well.
Statisticians did the math and all we knew was, we had to win all the remaining matches to make it to the playoffs. Our Yoddha delivered and how! Nitesh was our ace, owing to the scintillating performance he had showcased throughout, but others kept on emerging as heroes in each match. Yoddha did not let the momentum drop for even a moment and we were proud to register a big and crucial victory, against Patna Pirates – eventually demolishing their dream to enter the playoffs and strengthening ours. It was one of the most convincing victories we had in the season so far, with a margin of 16 points.
However, our next challenge could have finished our journey there. U Mumba, before this match, had lost only three matches in the league – which meant we needed to up the ante to be able to be competitive with their consistency.
Rishank, our captain, had been affected by his ankle-injury for the most of this season but he put his everything in the game. His effective raids got us off to a powerful start and Prashanth added more to the charts. However, the star of the match was Sachin, who restricted the Mumbai raiders completely and gained 6 tackle points at a success rate of more than 66 per cent. Though the final score was 34-32 and it was a close shave, the victory left us brimming with confidence.
In our final encounter of the group stage, we met Bengal Warriors. Previously, we had tied with the same opponents twice and it was time to settle scores with them. Rishank proved to be vital in the game again, finishing just one-point shy of his Super-10. Shrikant and Sachin looked in form, but it was Nitesh who broke yet another record – registering the highest-ever tackle points in the history of ProKabaddi. We had kick-started the season with a victory, and we ended our group-stage with a victory, too – registering a 41-25 win over the hosts. Yoddha’s efforts earned them what they truly deserved – a ticket to the playoffs.
The road to the final was long for us, as we qualified in the third spot. In Eliminator 1, we were to face U Mumba yet again and we knew this was not going to be easy. Nitesh had been in contention for the ‘Orange Sleeve’ with one of the finest defenders – Fazel Atrachali. The two were up against each other for the ultimate test of powers and Nitesh won it without a doubt. With 8 points from the match, his was the most points scored in a match which consisted of Siddharth Desai, who scored at 10.38 in this season. With a scoreline of 34-29, we proceeded to meet Dabang Delhi K.C. in Eliminator 2.
Yoddha thoroughly dominated Delhi, pulling off the fastest All-Out (within three minutes of start) in ProKabaddi history. Though our opponents tried to make a comeback in the second half after a stunning first half by our Yoddha, we made minimum mistakes and kept the points coming to end the match with a gigantic 45-33 victory. Star of the match – Prashanth, with two Super-Raids, including a 5-pointer.
Though our fairytale journey could not see the perfect ending after being knocked down by the mighty Fortune Giants in Qualifier 2, we can safely say we won hearts – by keeping our spirit alive, with one of the most sensational resurgences in ProKabaddi and giving the league a new hero in Nitesh Kumar, who ended with 101 tackle points in the season – a feat never achieved in the history of the league.
While criticism increased our hunger to comeback stronger, it was the constant support of the U.P. Yoddha fans that kept us going. We believe, the best thank you can be our promise to lift the trophy the next year. Hoping for the same support as we come back, we now call it a day for this season. Thank you to all the Yoddha!