Getting ready for an encore

AS the Indian youth team celebrated wildly in Thailand, one could see volleyball soaring to a new high in the country.

STAN RAYAN

AS the Indian youth team celebrated wildly in Thailand, one could see volleyball soaring to a new high in the country. One could hear the shackles that had tied the sport for a few decades, being broken. The Indian team was making merry after finishing runner-up at the World Youth Championship in July last year. A few months earlier, the team had won the Asian Championship.

Chander Singh, the chief National youth team coach, is confident of success. — Pic. MAHESH HARILAL-

With Sania Mirza winning the Wimbledon girls doubles title and with Anju George picking medals at international majors around the same period last year, Indian sport suddenly appeared to be on song. It was a joyous July really.

The youth volleyballers took the first step towards defending their Asian title and the World Championship silver at the recent national camp in Hyderabad. And the next camp will include the youngsters who had won the Children's Asian Tournament in Russia recently.

"Yes, we have a good chance of repeating the success at the Asian Youth Championship in the UAE next April and at the next Youth Worlds too," said Chander Singh, the chief National youth team coach.

"We had a 44-day camp in Hyderabad for 32 players who were selected after an open trials. The preference was for tall players and the minimum height of 190 cms," said Chander, who is also the coach of the Kochi Refineries volleyball team.

A good majority of the boys at the Hyderabad National camp came from the SAI or the State sports hostels. The average height is around 192 cms but a few of them, like Subair and Vijesh, are close to 198 cms.

Same system

"We're following the same system as last year and we are likely to have some exposure trips to Korea before the Asians," said Chander who hails from Haryana.

"Iran, Korea, Japan and China are strong in Asia. And at the world level, Brazil and the Europeans are very strong. The Brazilians are not very tall, their maximum height is just around 192 cms but they rely on power and there is a strong national spirit inspiring them," opined Chander, who was adjudged as the best coach at the Rashid international tournament in Dubai in 2002.

"The Europeans dominate play with their height and power. They are in the 198 cms to two-metre range," he said.

"The Indians are good in almost all the sections, but the attack needs some strengthening. In fact, India has been lacking in good attackers after Joby Joseph and Amir Singh. Of course, Tom Joseph could be a good attacker but he plays a more crucial role as an `universal' (allrounder)," said Chander.

The Indian team which won the Aian youth championship last year -- Pic. K.R. DEEPAK-

"A good attacker should jell well with the team in combination attacks. He should be a good backcourt attacker and an able receiver too," said the coach.

Chander Singh hopes to overcome these hurdles in the attack department in the next few months.

And what has happened to the stars of last year's Youth Worlds?

All the Youth World stars — including setter Kamaraj (adjudged the world's best in Thailand), attacker Sanjay Kumar, libero Kulwant, Srikanth, Dinesh and Rathish — have now progressed to the junior Indian team.

Bumpy ride

But it's been a rather bumpy ride for the juniors. The Indians finished fifth at the recent junior Asian Championship in Doha a few days ago. Incidentally, in a rather sensible vote for continuity, G. E. Sridharan who was the chief youth coach last year, is also the current chief junior coach. India was runner-up at the previous junior Asians.

"Frankly, India is much closer to the Asian and the World's best in the youth age-group than in the junior section. The youth championship is an under-17 event at the Asian-level and under-19 at the Worlds," said Chander.

"Things are different at the junior level, especially at the World Championship where it is an under-23 event and very close to the men's standard. The junior championship is an under-19 event at the Asians," he explained.

When the Indians approach the coming Youth Asians and the Worlds, the pressure will be on them not only to win the majors but to make winning a habit.