Puneri Paltan are going through one of their worst performances in Pro Kabaddi League and have been placed in the bottom half of PKL 2019 team standings with 29 points. They have won four of 14 matches played so far and tied two. Puneri Paltan are a defence-heavy team with Girish Ernak and Sagar Krishna as best corners while captain Surjeet Singh as one of best covers in PKL. However, Ernak and Surjeet failed to deliver consistently this season. The raiding unit too failed to make an impression. Star raider Nitin Tomar fared poorly after his return from injury, scoring 32 raid points in seven matches.
Last season Puneri Paltan ended fourth in their zone and failed to qualify for the playoffs. To reverse its fortunes, Pune's management named Anup Kumar, one of the best kabaddi players India has ever produced, as head coach. As a player, he had an illustrious career with U Mumba (PKL-1 to PKL-5) and finished his career with Jaipur Pink Panthers last season. With about 600 total points (527 raid points + 69 tackle points) to his name, Kumar is one of PKL's most accomplished players. He also won a championship (PKL-2) and featured in three finals (PKL-1 to PKL-3). As Indian team captain, he led his side to glory at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup, and also won the gold medal at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games.
In a telephonic interview with Business Standard, Puneri Paltan coach Anup Kumar touched various aspects of his team’s performance and about his transition from player to coach. Edited excerpts:
1) From playing last season to coaching a team in this one, tell us about your experience.
Kabaddi is a sport that teaches you every day. Coaching is a tough job. Still, I am trying my best. I talk about my coaching style with players and other senior coaches and they say, "You should continue with your style." As a whole, I feel I am doing fine.
2) What's the most difficult thing about coaching?
As a player, you do what the coach tell you. But now, as a coach, I have to point out the mistakes my players make and work with them to rectify them. It's a hard job to make players behave the way I want them to. Sometimes, they grasp what I want, sometimes they don't. That is the coach's most difficult job.
3) Failed tackles have been a problem point for Pune in several matches. How do you plan to fix that?
We have been performing miserably, as everyone can see. The players aren't doing justice to their talent. Girish hasn't been at his deadliest best. Also, Nitin Tomar was unavailable for initial matches due to injury, though he is now doing his best to get back into the groove. Surjeet Singh's performance has seen a lot of ups and downs. We had a lot of expectations from this trio at the start of the season but their performance so far isn't even 50 per cent of their potential. Despite the odds, we will put a spirited show in the remaining games and look to book a place in the playoffs.
4) Apart from Manjeet and Nitin Tomar, who do you think is the best raider among the younger lot?
Right now, we have Pankaj Mohite, and I bank on him. I used him mostly as a substitute and he scored some crucial raid points. Other than him, we have Amit Kumar and New Young player (NYP) in Sushant Sail, who also did well in patches. I see a bright future for both of them in kabaddi.
5) Overall, the matches this season have been dominated by defence. How come?
The players' performance on the kabaddi mat depends on video analysis (done ahead of the match). We sit down as a team and go through the videos of opponent raiders and defenders. All the teams are doing it and the one that is able to implement it on the mat first is successful. Like Pawan Sehrawat told me, the success mantra on the Kabaddi mat is not just about physical fitness and skills. A lot depends on how a player’s mind works on the mat in a given situation.