Age-old problem crops up again

The Uttar Pradesh team, which won the boys' title.-Pic. G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

IF the age-screening committee did have a say or had been stricter in implementing the norms, only eight or nine teams would have played the 11th edition of the mini-National volleyball championship held at the far flung, dusty village of Huvina Hadagali in Bellary district (Karnataka), recently.

Barring teams from Goa, Pondicherry, Tripura and girls' teams from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and host Karnataka, none of the others that participated looked clean. The fact that Rajasthan and Haryana suffered immensely with six players being barred from participation was a low price to pay for the act. Many more players from these two teams would have suffered the same fate but for the magnanimity of the committee and the organisers. The committee chairman P. Subba Rao reasoned that since the teams have travelled long distances, they may be allowed to play. That one team, which escaped the wrath, with a solitary case, went on to win the boys' title should reflect on the seriousness of the issue.

Uttar Pradesh was indeed good. But for the fact that Manipur upset the calculations of the Haryana team, reduced to six members (one of the players was reported sick during the semifinals), the final would have been a humdinger. Manipur's exuberance fizzled out in the final reducing the clash to a one-sided contest.

The loss of Asgar Ali (found guilty of overage) did not matter much for the Uttar Pradesh side. In Dhananjai Rai, Arvind Sharma and Deepak Kumar the attack force was experienced and capable. The others rose to the occasion time and again, which gave the team the all-conquering aura.

That the team lost just four sets — it was taken the distance in the quarterfinals against Tamil Nadu and in the semifinals by Madhya Pradesh — should in itself confirm the team's superiority. Against TN, the champion side tended to relax after pocketing the third set after trading the first two and it almost cost it dear. It was purely TN's failure to capitalise on the big points that let UP off the hook. And in the semifinals it was a sterling recovery from MP that saw the match go into the decider. Even in the league tie, Manipur did take the second and third set into extra points before erring badly.

Manipur, voted the most disciplined team bagging a cash prize of Rs. 3000, struggled right from day one, against lowly Assam, and played like a champion only against Haryana in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, host Karnataka flattered only to deceive by taking the first set but gifting away the next three to Manipur. Though Manipur lacked technical soundness, it had the resoluteness to seize the opportunities.

Karnataka missed out on a chance to play the final mainly due to some insipid play and inept substitutions. Coach K. C. Ashok's persistence with a couple of players throughout the tournament was baffling, to say the least. Ajay and Ashok came good in the first few outings, while captain H. S. Pavan was erratic at times and brilliant the next moment. Libero Shravan Kumar Yadav, though small-made, flung himself around to prove his usefulness.

Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were the teams that looked like beating anybody on their day, only that the day did not dawn in this tournament. MP did salvage some pride when it prevailed over Karnataka in five sets to avenge its league debacle, in the match for the third place. Kerala, once a powerhouse, played below par and though it did make the last eight, it was soundly thrashed by Karnataka in the quarterfinals.

Teams from Assam, Jammu & Kashmir and former champion Andhra Pradesh did manage to etch out victories here and there but were never a force to reckon with. Goa, with an average age and height, did celebrate late into the night after its victory over Andhra Pradesh in group D. Goa even managed to take a set off Kerala.

In the girls' section the title contenders were clearly holder West Bengal, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The last named however surprised everyone by losing to a mediocre Karnataka in the quarterfinals while the other three finished in the top bracket.

The final was a well-contested affair. Haryana, without much frills put it across West Bengal for its maiden title. The match swung like a pendulum before the Haryana girls clinched the deciding set at 15-9.West Bengal did boast of a couple of promising players such as Minakshi Ghosh and Papia Karmakar. With Basanthi Draon, Biswapriya Ghosh and Suman Dey chipping in adequately, the side looked good throughout until running into a `wall' from Haryana.

Haryana had just one tall player in Seema and she was patchy. But in Kiran, Reena and Arti, along with Priyanka, the foursome returned everything thrown at them. The prolonged rallies only frustrated the aggressive Bengal girls into making mistakes while trying to do something out of the ordinary.

Winning the first set, Haryana jolted West Bengal from its reverie. And the Bengal girls responded in style to clinch the next two sets, with Minakshi and Suman Dey spiking well. But the heat and gusty winds that persisted throughout seemed to play havoc as Bengal faltered and fumbled to lose the next two at 10-25, 9-15. Tamil Nadu thrived on the brilliance of V. S. Nithya, who stood tall even in the defeat to Haryana in four sets, in the semifinals. Karnataka, which won only because UP played disastrously in the quarterfinals, was clearly no match for West Bengal in the semifinals and only managed to do slightly better against TN in the third place play-off. Captain Vandana, the tall Rachana and Ananya Sehadari can turn into potential stars if only they change their attitude. Kerala too fumbled against UP in the league and, despite some good work by Sini Joseph and K. K. Fousath, did not have the wherewithal to proceed much further.

Rajasthan did give West Bengal the jitters in the league stage and it was only by virtue of the 3-2 victory in Group A that West Bengal advanced into the quarterfinals. Rajasthan met more than its match in TN, in the round of eight.

The Goa girls emulated their boys with a flattering win over Chattisgarh in their concluding league engagement.

The results:

Boys: Final: Uttar Pradesh bt Manipur 25-11, 25-20, 25-22. For third place: MP bt Karnataka 25-22, 25-20, 23-25, 17-25, 15-11. Semifinals: UP bt MP 25-23, 22-25, 25-8, 21-25, 15-11; Manipur bt Karnataka 20-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-21. Quarterfinals: UP bt TN 24-26, 25-15, 25-21, 25-27, 15-13; Manipur bt Haryana 25-19, 25-22, 25-15; MP bt West Bengal 26-24, 25-20, 25-17; Karnataka bt Kerala 25-17, 25-18, 25-16.

Girls: Final: Haryana bt West Bengal 26-24, 23-25, 21-25, 25-10, 15-9. For third place: T.N. bt Karnataka 25-19, 25-15, 21-25, 25-19. Semifinals: West Bengal bt Karnataka 25-11, 25-12, 25-10; Haryana bt TN 14-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-16. Quarterfinals: West Bengal bt Maharashtra 25-15, 25-5, 25-11; Karnataka bt Uttar Pradesh 25-13, 19-25, 25-14, 25-27, 15-5; TN bt Rajasthan 25-13, 25-13, 25-12, 25-10; Haryana bt Kerala 25-18, 26-24, 25-11.

AVINASH NAIR