Cochin Port Trust emerges as a new force

THE Volleyball Federation of India has quickly fallen in line with the World body's desire to popularise the game by promoting club volleyball.

H. S. MANJUNATH

The victorious Cochin Port Trust men's team. — Pics. V. SREENIVASA MURTHY-

THE Volleyball Federation of India has quickly fallen in line with the World body's desire to popularise the game by promoting club volleyball. India is among half a dozen Asian countries putting this variety of league in place. The preliminary phase of the National Volleyball League Club Championship was spread across different centres culminating in a Final League. This new platform has given Club volleyball a fresh lease of life. For these clubs there is now this national pride to play for, greater exposure and recognition coming in its wake. Some of the top clubs in the country jumped into the bandwagon. But like any pioneering effort, this latest VFI experiment also washed ashore a few logistical problems. The most serious setback for the organisers of these preliminaries was the hitch involving several top teams. BSF, Jalandhar for example, made it an agonising wait for the Karnataka Volleyball Association which had magnanimously stepped in for Haryana at the nth minute. After orally confirming its arrival in Bangalore from its last port of call Trapiyar, BSF's no show came as a shock. K. Murugan, Secretary General of the VFI, who was present to oversee the progress of two preparatory camps for the National Youth sides, was unsparing in his criticism of the team's indifference and announced punitive action against the side. The six-team men's league was thus reduced by one and it put a premium on quality as well. The Manipal leg also suffered the same malady and things were no different at Nagercoil. Cause enough for VFI to take serious notice.

As Nanda Kumar, Secretary of the Karnataka Volleyball Association put it. "These are some bitter lessons for the future".

Thankfully the event went indoors at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. So often the KOA has been banished to the open courts, the huge cost of going indoors weighing it down as the sprawling indoor facility constantly fell victim to commercial considerations.

The nitty gritty of the week-long event saw the emergence of Cochin Port Trust as a new force in the southern half of the country. The coast was seemingly clear for Port Trust throughout. The side not only remained unbeaten but was not so much as seriously tested in any of the four matches. The side is predominantly youth from which comes the attacking power. Central to its scheme was Raj Vinod, a senior Indian international, who carried out his role as a libero to perfection, lending his agility to come up with astounding interceptions. The two six footers in the Port Trust attacking line, Shijo Thomas and Ansar, provided the side with a distinct edge in aggressive net play. Paul Joseph as a setter was steady without being spectacular. As coach Samuel put it "The side is happy to be getting back into the main stream. We will be up against strong teams in the Final League. But the Bangalore performance has given the side new impetus''.

The women's champion, Kerala State Electricity Board. — Pics. V. SREENIVASA MURTHY-

Income Tax, Hyderabad was perceived as the fiercest rival to Port Trust. With two junior internationals, Dhanunjaya Rao and Kasi V. Raju in its ranks, the Hyderabad side had a relatively easy time until it crossed paths with Port Trust. Rajkumar as a libero brought into the trade all the wiles of beach volleyball he is so good at. But overall, the Taxmen had to play second fiddle to the consistently aggressive Port Trust. That was the match of the championship. Here the Taxmen blew hot and cold. The Hyderabad side wears an aggressive look. Most of its players resort to attacking jump serves, Kasi does it with particular relish. But on that fateful day, his jump serves wouldn't work and his usually bristling second passes, as a setter, were not so effective. Curiously enough, Kasi's supply was a treat to watch in most of the other games. This opened up the game for Port Trust who kept pegging away consistently at the net.

For the youthful Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, this was a refreshing experience. The side is full of promising players who if well harnessed could turn out to be frontliners. The local big cheese, AGORC couldn't measure up to the expectations. The problem with AGORC is that it has players who play well as individuals but not so well as a team. For CRPF, Delhi, the absence of Tomar, who was tucked away in the National Youth Camp, was a serious setback.

Port Trust set out to rediscover itself. After that Federation Cup high a couple of years ago, the side had nothing big to show. Now it has charted its course back to prominent mention. As a second qualifier from this leg, Income Tax would be looking for a far more concrete campaign in the Final League.

Cochin Port's captain Sunil Kumar (right) spikes past Income-Tax's Pradeep Sirangi (No.10) and P.Dhanunjaya Rao. Cochin Port and Income-Tax finished as the top two teams. — Pic. V. SREENIVASA MURTHY-

The women's section saw Kerala State Electricity Board, sprinkled as it was with a number of State players, head and shoulders above the other four teams. Gisha Thomas was a one-player destructive force in almost every match. Hardly any could match Gisha's fist power. KSEB met with little or no resistance from any of the sides. Its all-win record thus came as no surprise at all. The scratch combination of Karnataka Club boasted of five National campers. But as a cohesive alliance it could not come anywhere near KSEB. Instead, it had to remain second best. Since only one team qualified from this leg, finishing second was not so rewarding for Karnataka Club. Eastern Railway, Kolkata was outplayed by both KSEB and KCB but managed to take care of the other two in the fray, Mayor's Club, Hyderabad and Haryana Agricultural University. For the University girls it was not so pleasurable an experience ending up as they did with an all loss record.

Final League Standings:

Men: 1. Cochin Port Trust; 2. Income Tax, Hyderabad, 3. AGORC, Bangalore; 4. SDAT, Chennai; 5. CRPF, Delhi.

Women: 1. KSEB, Kerala; 2. Karnataka Club, Bangalore; 3. Eastern Railway, Kolkata; 4. Mayor's Club, Hyderabad; 5. Haryana Agricultural University.