Indoor is in

VIVEK BENDRE

The clear positive signal from the National Senior Championship was the VFI's decision to heed media suggestions and make elite teams play in an indoor stadium, writes M. C. RAMAN.

The clear positive signal from last month's 54th National Senior Championship in Pune was the Volleyball Federation of India's (VFI) decision to heed media suggestions and make elite teams play in an indoor stadium. The Indian team, which is currently doing well in international competitions, is made up of players mostly from elite teams. They must be given wooden surfaces of indoor stadiums rather than mud surfaces of outdoor stadiums. Talking about the National, though the men's final turned out to be a damp squib because the Services did not have the right mix to stretch the Railways to a fifth set, there were matches which would be etched in the minds of the spectators for a long time. The Kerala-Railways tie was the best in terms of technical excellence and intensity of rallies. Railways' setter Kapil Dev was at his brilliant best and saw his team through. Railways had to beat Kerala to move to the semifinals. Similarly, qualifier Tamil Nadu lost to defending champion Haryana in a tight five-setter. But Haryana, without Sanjay Kumar, Amir Singh and Raghuveer Singh, was out of depth in most of the ties and bowed out early.

Services and Punjab from Group X and Railways and Uttaranchal from Group Y entered the knock-out phase. Punjab fought its way to the last four before being stopped by Railways with its good block. In the preliminary phase, Tamil Nadu lost a five setter to Uttar Pradesh, but managed to top the group on set average. But Andhra was eliminated by Punjab, which was the group winner. Uttaranchal and Karnataka were the other group toppers.

Women's volleyball is still in stagnation. The final between Kerala and Railways was not of very high standard. Good finishing and technical excellence were in short supply. Karnataka, Chandigarh, Bengal and Delhi topped their groups in the preliminary round. But Railways and Andhra from Group X and Kerala and Bengal from Group Y moved into the semifinals. It was not so easy for Railways to dislodge defending champions Kerala, but the women from the southern state made some unforced mistakes at crucial stages to lose.

The Indian men are hovering between the 26th and the 29th positions in the world and the target is to get into the top 16 before the 2012 Olympics in London. However, if the goal is to be reached, more tournaments must be organised in indoor stadiums. Till 2003, the National senior competition was condemned to muddy, under-prepared outdoor conditions. But in the last two years the top eight teams have got better playing facilities. "We are aiming for a higher world ranking. So we must be able to take some firm decisions while conducting key events. What has happened in the last two years is good for Indian volleyball but it has to be sustained," said Ramana Rao, who is a recipient of the Arjuna and the Dhronacharya awards.