CHENNAI: Across 2017 and 2018, Tamil Thalaivas set an unwanted record. In terms of results, they were one of the worst-performing franchises in any sport in India. In 2017, the year Thalaivas made their debut, they finished dead last in Zone B (six wins in 22 games). In 2018, they were expected to do much better. They went backwards — five wins in 22 games.
However, E Bhaskaran, Thalaivas’ coach, has promised that this season won’t see them doing a three-peat. “We had a number of reasons why we didn’t perform well as a team last year,” he told this newspaper on Friday. “What I can tell you right now is that we will be better than last year... much better.”
The former India coach holds this belief because of the absence of injuries that condemned the team’s top players to the sickbay for most of the 2018 campaign.
“I was never able to play my best seven players in any match. If my left defender was playing, my starting right defender was out. It was the same with raiders, our season was ravaged by injuries. This season we have a full complement of players to pick from, it should benefit us.”
While one must wait for some more time to see whether his prophecy is right or wrong, the signs have been pretty good. Thalaivas will begin the home leg of the seventh season of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) in better health. They are ensconced in mid-table (20 points from six games, six points off first), a territory they have never occupied before.
In fact, they would have been the runaway leaders had they not found themselves on the wrong side of two buzzer-beaters — a 23-24 against Patna Pirates and a 29-30 against Dabang Delhi. In a sense, losing by a solitary point is as Thalaivas as it can come — their first-ever PKL match saw them going down to Bengaluru Bulls 32-31 in 2017.
It’s this affliction to ‘so near yet so far’ that Bhaskaran wants to arrest over the next week at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium from Saturday. “We need to learn from those experiences,” he said. “Our aim is to learn from mistakes.”
It’s also a pointed reference to how teams have played at home so far. Thalaivas are expected to play in front of full house on all days — the stadium is already sold out for the weekend if organisers are to be believed — but franchises have struggled. “Teams have taken on board lots of pressure while playing in front of their fans. Pressure obviously does funny things and teams have ended up losing. We need to learn that. I have told my boys not to feel any pressure and just to enjoy.” With four home games in the next week, they would do well to heed the coach’s advice.