The dash before the final lap

The dash before the final lap

Teams target semifinal spots as the pro league hits the penultimate phase today

The dash before the final lap

Strobe lights, coldplay music and fireworks which decorate the night sky are all common themes during an opening ceremony of a multi-discipline event or during a fight night.

But over the last month, another sport has featured them all, along with some exciting action, gripping the nation. The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) caravan, which began in Mumbai on July 26, comes to Bangalore for the penultimate leg of what has been a hugely successful inaugural tournament. 

Consider this stat: the opening game of the FIFA World Cup between Brazil and Croatia was watched by 2 million viewers in India. The opening game of PKL between U Mumba and Jaipur Pink Panthers? 22 million (not a typo!). 

While the novelty factor might have ensured enough mileage to keep the league going for a couple of weeks, the addictive nature of the matches – fast, furious and simple to understand – has ensured a repeat audience. Be it at the stadiums or in the living rooms. 

As the action comes to Bangalore for the last round of league games – at a sell-out Sree Kanterava Indoor Stadium from Sunday to Wednesday – fans are hoping that Bengaluru Bulls, who are fifth on the table with 31 points, have a chance of making the last four. 

Having not been on the winning side since August 13 – when they edged out U Mumba 33-30 – they need to bring their ‘A’ game to the fore if they are to finish in the top four. They do have an opportunity to do that against Bengal Warriors, who are out of the reckoning, in the first match on Sunday. 

But they first have to deal with the loss of their most important raider, Ajay Thakur, who is down with jaundice as well as typhoid. Thakur picked up the illness during the Patna leg of the league and has been laid low since. Their captain, Manjeet Chillar, is also suffering with a bad right ankle and is a doubtful starter for the game. The Singhs, Pritam and Pramod, may also not be fit enough to take the court because of a thigh muscle strain and illness respectively. 

One area where the team has struggled is in the raiding department – Ajay has been credited with 87 points, only the ninth best in the league – and that is something that they will look to work in the home leg. Bulls have been a bit inconsistent – they won their first three games, lost two of their next four before the current winless streak – and they can ill afford more slip ups. 

Jaipur, though, have no such worries as they became the first team to qualify for the semifinals on Friday when they saw off the challenge of Dabang Delhi with a fine 41-31 victory. Having lost only twice and winning 10 of their 13 matches so far, they are the team to beat going into the home stretch of the competition. 

The other teams in the fray to reach the semis – U Mumba, Patna Pirates, Telugu Titans and Bulls – have all had stop-start campaigns and they need to pull up their socks if they hope to make a late rally. Warriors and Puneri Paltan, who bring up the rear in the eight-team league, stand no chance of making the cut. 

Meanwhile, preparations to make the venue ready went into overdrive on the eve of the event. The organisers have brought in extra air-conditioners and have almost completed testing the lighting facility.

Even the pigeons, present in huge numbers during the Indian Badminton League at the same venue, were conspicuous by their absence.  There were still a few issues that needed to be sorted out but the organisers were confident of the venue being match-fit come Sunday evening. 

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox