MUMBAI: A nervous, jumpy Anup Kumar sat on the sidelines, trying to goad his team, Puneri Paltan, into action. Having once ruled the stage, U Mumba's former captain, Pune's current coach and one of the best raiders the country has produced, presided over a shambolic performance in attack as Pune lost 23-33 to U Mumba at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai on Saturday.
This was Puneri Paltan's second defeat in a row and leaves them stranded at No 11 in the 12-team league table of the Pro Kabaddi League. The lack of a lead raider has hurt the Pune outfit, with spearhead Nitin Tomar forced out due to injury.
"I felt like I should go into raid," the dejected Puneri Paltan coach said after the match. "Our raiders are good, but if they perform like that it's going to be very difficult."
The match against U Mumba, dubbed as the Maharashtra derby, was always going to be a battle between the two defences. With Tomar out, neither team had a big-name raider and it was apparent during a cagey first half, which ended with U Mumba slightly in lead at 11-9.
Pune have two of the strongest defenders in captain Surjeet Singh and Girish Ernak. But the latter had an off day on Saturday, not notching up a single point and had three unsuccessful tackles to his name. Surjeet, standing at right cover, scored six points in total and was involved in three super tackles.
Hosts Mumbai also struggled in the raiding department in the first half. They had all of three touch points — all by Abhishek Singh — in the first 20 minutes. But with their defence helping them fight off the early jitters and overcome a deficit of 2-5, U Mumba gained in strength as the match went on. They took the attack to a struggling Pune in the opening minutes of the second half to open up a big lead.
Arjun Deshwal, who came in a substitute, did a star turn for the home team, scoring five points in raid, which was as good as their lead raider Abhishek and better than the other raiders who started. In defence, Surender Singh, Sandeep Narwal all finished with four tackle points each, confirming the team's status as one of the better defending units.
For Pune, Sushant Sail proved to be a super sub, earning three raid points in the second half to help the team cut back the lead to less than 10. But neither Puneri Paltan's raiders nor defenders performed on par to test U Mumba's readiness. Pune's lead raider Pawan Kadian had three successful raids in 13 outings, while support raider Manjeet had only one in eight attempts.