India Seniors emerges unscathed

M. C. RAMAN

FOR five days the Indian volleyball fraternity's focus was on the fifth Sivanthi Gold Cup international tournament, hosted by the Andhra Pradesh Association in Hyderabad at its newly-constructed indoor complex at Yusufguda.

The field was not strong in the sense that the timing of the competition did not suit some regular participants like Iran, Ukraine and Pakistan. Their presence would have definitely made the event more competitive. Iran is seriously preparing for the coming Asian Games and Asian junior championship. So both its senior and junior sides could not make it. Ukraine's withdrawal was puzzling. It has been a regular visitor in all Asian events from the early 90s. The Pakistan officials did express their willingness to be at the Andhra capital to their Indian counterparts during the AVC meeting. But the Volleyball Federation of India did not receive any message from the Pakistan Federation after that.

In fact, the VFI wanted to rope in Tunisia and an Europen team for this championship. But the Cup schedule came too close to many major events in the world. So this time the field had been reduced to just three foreign outfits and two Indian teams.

Of the three foreign invitees, Myanmar was a new entity and the team's background was not known. For decades Myanmar was in a self-imposed isolation. But now the team is doing pretty well. Without much reputation the Myanmar side landed here and finished runner-up behind the India Seniors, which regained the Cup it last won in 1992 at Delhi.

Much was expected from Thailand and Kazakhstan. But they failed. It was Myanmar which made the championship eventful by beating the India Juniors to clinch the No. 2 spot. Thailand brought just two seniors. Kazakhstan was the most disjointed of the lot, perhaps the worst. Despite its tremendous height advantage its spiking continued to be erratic. It never posed serious threat to any team in the Cup competition. In four matches it could take only one set - against India Seniors.

However, Thailand and Myanmar, which played fast and entertaining volleyball, turned out to be the spectators' favourites. They both played like the Japanese and Korean teams. More quick and short ball spiking, sharp finish at the net, combination attacks and thundering jump serves. These techniques need more athleticism and the Thai and Myanmar players had plenty of them. When they met, Myanmar, which improved its game in every outing, surprised Thailand with its superb attack and defence, crippling the rival's game.

Before the commencement of the tournament, India Seniors, which won the Rashid memorial international in Dubai beating teams like Ukraine, Tunisia and Iran, was the hot favourite. It was the tallest team at an average height of 194 cm and the Kazakhs' was 193 cm. While the average height of Thailand and India Juniors was 189 cm, Myanmar was the shortest team at 184 cm.

As both India Senior and Junior teams had done well in their tours prior to this event they were expected to do well. The Senior side's visit to Tunisia and Iran was 'successful' as the outfit beat even the powerful Iran. It was almost the same team that figured in Hyderabad. Centre blockers Rajesh, Subba Rao, setter Ravikanth Reddy, spikers Tom Joseph, Joby Joseph, Amir Singh and libero Arun Jakhmola. So the team got off to a flying start, beating the India Juniors.

Whether it was attack or defence the Seniors team was the best equipped. So one wondered how the Juniors' block would work against Joby, Tom and Amir. Rahul, Vikram and Nadarajan were the main blockers. As left-arm spiker Mukesh Kumar came as a substitute and lifted the Juniors' morale he became a main member of the squad. However, the Juniors' net defence was not strong enough to blunt the Senior assault.

The Seniors mowed down all the opposition. It was only against Kazakhstan that they tended to be a bit lethargic and lost a set. In that match the Kazakhs showed good fighting spirit for the first time. Ignor, Alexei, Denis, Konstantin and Nickolai were the main spikers. For their height they could have brought any side to submission, unleashing thundering smashes. But they tended to be more erratic and their block was amazingly weak even against Myanmar. The only bright spot in their game was against the Seniors.

For the first two days the spectators were disappointed as the matches were over in straight sets. But on the last two days the fans were treated to some exciting volleyball. The Myanmar-Thailand encounter generated a lot of interest, but the Thais had to bow to the incredibly brilliant offence of Myanmar's ace spiker Ye Min Aung, whose jump and spike was a treat to watch. As a natural spiker he was a headache to every defence in the competition, including the Seniors.

Myanmar's performance rose to dizzy heights against India Juniors on the final day. The team was two sets down, but it turned it around when the Juniors began to fumble. Apart from Ye Min Aung, Kyaw Shwe also began to hit down the line shots superbly, thoroughly exposing the home team's poor net defence. He completely turned the match around. Setter Ye Myint was excellent in organising the attack, which was unstoppable. Kyaw Swar Win, Nay Lin Tun and Win Miun Tun gave good support both in defence and offence. The Indian Juniors' defence collapsed. Even setter Kasi's jump serve, which helped the team win on some occasions, failed. Thailand's game or offence depended mainly on one man - Sriphum Supachai, a stocky man with powerful shoulders. His shots came like bullets. Wanchai was the next best. Together they rattled the rivals. However, the team could finish only fourth, losing to India Juniors, Seniors and Myanmar. On the final day, the Seniors completely shut out the Thais.

Overall the standard was not upto the level of the previous four competitions. The Russians always gave a lift to the event. They do not come now for various reasons, though some former Soviet States did provide some consolation. Still, the Indian teams preparing for the Asian Games and Asian junior championships got one more chance to assess their strengths and weaknesses. The Sivanthi Gold Cup, which was started as India Cup in 1986, had always helped the home teams to achieve better results in Asian competitions. This time too it should happen.

The results: India Seniors beat India Juniors 25-16, 25-19, 27-25; beat Myanmar 25-20, 25-9, 25-18; beat Kazakhstan 25-15, 25-17, 22-25, 25-19; beat Thailand 25-21, 25-16, 25-16.

Myanmar beat Kazakhstan 25-23, 25-12, 25-19; beat Thailand 25-23, 25-13, 25-20; beat India Juniors 16-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-18, 17-15.

India Juniors beat Kazakhstan 25-15, 25-13, 25-17; beat Thailand 25-18, 25-22, 25-16.

Thailand beat Kazakhstan 25-17, 25-19, 25-21.