Puneri Paltan pulled off an impressive victory in the first match of Pro Kabaddi League at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium on Wednesday, beating defending champions Bengaluru Bulls 31-23.
Only 16 points separated the top and the bottom teams in the points table going into the match, and Pune's victory, thanks to an incredible performance from their defence, showed how close the competition is, in what is turning out to be a very competitive season.
A heavily-bandaged Surjeet Singh in the centre was the leader (6 tackle points) in the defensive unit for Puneri Paltan, giving no room for the league's best raider, Pawan Sehrawat, to weave his magic.
Sagar Krishna came in for the struggling Girish Ernak as coach Anup Kumar made the changes to a faltering Pune side while the Bengaluru Bulls went in with an extra defender in the line-up buoyed by the performances of their two raiders in Sehrawat and Rohit Kumar.
It was Paltan who had an impressive start, consistently tackling Bengaluru Bulls' raiders, with Krishna justifying his inclusion with an incredible body block on Rohit Kumar six minutes into the match. The defensive units matched each other tackle for tackle, as the raiders, including Pune's Nitin Tomar struggled to impress.
A low-scoring, heavy tackling, first half, which also saw Sehrawat reach 100 points for the season, ended with scores even at 10-10.
Bengaluru's decision to play just two raiders back-fired as Paltan's improved defence thwarted any raider who ventured into their territory. Pune, coached by the 'Bonus ka Badshah' Anup Kumar, also ensured Rohit Kumar and Sehrawat did not get their bonus points easily.
The team inflicted the game's only All-Out on Bengaluru Bulls in the sixth minute of the second half to open up an 8-point gap. Manjeet's clever raids in Do-Or-Die situations were also vital for Pune as they raced to a two-digit lead.
The defence held firm, as Surjeet Singh completed a personal milestone of 250 points in Pro Kabaddi League, and secured a very important victory that pushed up to 10th in the league standings.
Bengaluru's loss meant they lost out on an opportunity to go on top of the table.