In addition to Bengal Warriors getting the better of Naveen Kumar's individual heroics for Dabang Delhi KC, Season 7 of the Pro Kabaddi League will be remembered for milestone performances from Pawan Kumar Sehrawat and Pardeep Narwal. Here's our team of the tournament from the three-month-long season:
Pawan Kumar Sehrawat (Lead raider/left in, Bengaluru Bulls)
346 raid points from 24 matches
The main question around the Season 6 MVP was whether he could maintain the sky-high level he showed in leading Bengaluru to their first PKL title and even improve his game. Pawan answered both questions in emphatic fashion. He finished with almost 80 points more than his haul last season, including breaking the league record for most points in a match by a single player, and routinely scored in amounts that made the PKL's Super 10 (at least 10 raid points in a match) statistic seem like an insufficient measure of his scoring prowess. In addition, Pawan displayed an improved ability to wriggle out of the most difficult of tackles, as captain Rohit Kumar had said he would before the season.
Pawan almost carried Bengaluru to another final. That he did so without any raiding support - as Rohit was injured for much of the season - and with a defence that conceded the most points this season makes Pawan's performance all the more impressive. He finished the season on top of several lists - raid points, average raid points, successful raids and total points. To top it off, Pawan even contributed defensively this season.
Naveen Kumar (second raider/centre, Dabang Delhi KC)
301 raid points from 23 matches
Although Naveen finished the season third on the list of raid points and total points, behind Pardeep Narwal and well behind Pawan, he was the best player this season, thanks to his consistency. The first player born in the 2000s to play in the league, Naveen scored a Super 10 in 22 out of 23 matches, including 21 consecutive times. He was in tears after his team lost the final, but it wasn't for a lack of effort on his part. Naveen scored almost 20 points on the night, but was let down by a lack of support from his team, especially the defence.
That Naveen won the MVP award, in just his second season in the PKL, was fitting.
Maninder Singh (third raider/right in, Bengal Warriors)
205 raid points from 20 matches
Maninder Singh finished as Bengal's best raider, and by some distance, for the third consecutive season. He possesses the kind of scoring ability that, as teammate Sukesh Hegde put it before the final, required the team's three support raiders' combined efforts to compensate for in his absence. Thankfully for Bengal, the team's support raiders did just that after Maninder missed the team's final four games due to a shoulder injury, putting on inspired performances in the semifinal and final.
In addition to his raiding, which he has improved on season after season, Maninder also impressed with his captaincy, which he received after the team chose not to retain defensive stalwart and former captain Surjeet Singh at the auction for Season 7.
Fazel Atrachali (left corner, U Mumba)
82 tackle points in 24 matches
While U Mumba were reliable, even if unspectacular, in attack, it was the defence that lent solidity to the team. Iranian defender Fazel Atrachali (along with Sandeep Narwal and Surinder Singh to a lesser extent) were responsible for their solid defence, which conceded the third-lowest tally of points this season and finished fourth on the list of tackle points scored. Vastly experienced as a four-time finalist and two-time PKL winner, Fazel's consistency helped U Mumba make the playoffs for the second straight season.
In the semifinal, which U Mumba lost to Bengal by two points, Fazel had a rare poor night, scoring just one point as Bengal outperformed U Mumba defensively by two points and held their nerve for a last-gasp win. Still, Fazel did well through the season to finish with the most tackle points and successful tackles.
Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh (left cover, Bengal Warriors)
122 total points from 23 matches
Bengal's bid of Rs. 77.75 lakh for Iranian allrounder Mohammad Nabibakhsh at this year's auction, making him the most expensive overseas player this season, came as a bit of a surprise. Nabibakhsh has been part of the Iran setup for some time, even playing in the Iran team that beat India at the Asian Games last year, but he was still relatively unknown in India. Picking Nabibakhsh now seems like an inspired choice. The Iranian regularly contributed in both attack and defense and couldn't have picked a better occasion than the final to score his only Super 10 of the season. Nabibakhsh inspired Bengal's comeback after the team made a slow start to the final.
With 92 raid points and 30 tackle points, Nabibakhsh finished as the third-best allrounder this season. But it's hard to argue he wasn't the most valuable one.
Baldev Singh (right corner, Bengal Warriors)
66 tackle points from 24 matches
Baldev Singh was the best defender for Bengal this season. He teamed up with the likes of Rinku Narwal, Jeeva Kumar and even Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh to ensure Bengal's defence held up well despite the absence of Surjeet Singh and Ran Singh. Baldev had six High 5s (at least five tackle points in a match) this season, but his contributions lowered in value in Bengal's last few matches. However, the defence performing as a unit meant Baldev's performances didn't prove costly.
Baldev finished fifth on the list of tackle points this season, with teammate Rinku just below him with two points lesser.
Surjeet Singh (right cover, Puneri Paltan)
63 tackle points from 21 matches
Surjeet Singh's showing in defence, along with the raiding of Manjeet, were among the few bright spots in a poor season for Puneri Paltan, who finished 10th on the table. Surjeet is particularly adept at using the block and the dash moves to tackle opposition raiders and protect his own raider at the centre.
Surjeet finished fifth on the list of tackle points, but was the best in the league when it came to high-value contributions. His seven High 5s were the joint-highest this season, along with UP Yoddha's Sumit. He performed the same feat in Season 5.
Substitutes: Pardeep Narwal (302 raid points, Patna Pirates), Siddharth Desai (217 raid points, Telugu Titans), Manjeet (123 raid points, Puneri Paltan), Sumit (77 tackle points, UP Yoddha), Nitesh Kumar (75 tackle points, UP Yoddha).