Finest all-rounder of his time

Udayakumar had PLAYED A KEY ROLE in helping India win a bronze medal at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul.-H.VIBHU

Udayakumar had played a key role in helping India win a bronze medal at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul.

It was going to be just another day in office for K. Udayakumar, Aide-de-Camp to the Governor of Kerala, on September 19. Except that the Kerala Police officer had spent an hour in the morning giving an interview to a news channel at his residence in Thiruvananthapuram, on the prospects of the Indian volleyball team at the Asian Games in the South Korean city of Incheon.

Then, barely a couple of hours later, he died of a massive cardiac arrest. He was 53.

Some 28 years ago, Udayakumar had played a key role in helping India win a bronze medal at the Asian Games, in another South Korean city, Seoul. During the news channel interview, he talked about that unforgettable moment in the history of Indian volleyball.

Cyril C. Valloor was Udayakumar’s captain in Seoul and had played with him in many other tournaments for about a couple of decades.

“Udayakumar was a remarkable player; he was perhaps the best blocker of all time in Indian volleyball,” he said. “He was in supreme touch in Seoul. Both of us were part of the Indian team at the 1982 Asian Games too; we had finished fourth then. We were determined to retain that position in Seoul, where we were bolstered by Jimmy George.”

Cyril said he had been a team-mate of Udayakumar since 1978. “We played together for the first time in the Kerala State junior team,” he said. “Since then, we had been team-mates at Kerala Police, Travancore Titanium, Railways, the Kerala State team and the national side.” According to Cyril, though Udayakumar was primarily a centre-blocker, he went on to become one of the finest all-round players of his time.

“He was a very dedicated player,” Cyril said. “And he was willing to work hard, unlike some of the stars in Indian volleyball today.”

From a village in Alappuzha District to Seoul, it was a long journey for Udayakumar. After playing for India at the Asian junior championship in 1980 in Seoul, he graduated to the senior team before long. He was part of the Indian teams in three Asian Championships and was the captain of the team that won the silver medal at the 1989 SAF Games.

P. K. Ajith Kumar