Iran matchless

A team that was considered only the second best side from Iran turned out to be better than the best from India. And this only proved the depth of talent and a sense of commitment Iran has for the game. By S. Sabanayakan.

India might have gone into the third Asian Volleyball Championship (Central Zone) as the favourite, but it was Iran which stole the show with a grand display that was commensurate with its higher ranking at the World and continental level.

A team that was considered only the second best side from Iran turned out to be better than the best from India. And this only proved the depth of talent and a sense of commitment Iran has for the game.

“We have a pool of 40 players to choose from at any given point of time,” said Payman Akbari, the head coach of Iran. “Yes, the best side is playing in the World Championship, but we have enough talent to make another good side,” he elaborated.

Iran stood head and shoulder above all in all departments of the game. Besides the team made full use of video analyses which gave Akbari inputs regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents during matches. This helped the coach to change his team's strategy as and when required.

“We make full use of all the players in a match, take all the time-outs and come prepared for each contest. Each player of our team has a designated responsibility,” Akbari explained.

India, on the other hand, seemed to lack the art of planning. And the coach, Desh Raj, had no video analysis support. It was as if Iran was on automatic mode and India on manual mode. The Iranians, naturally, played like a well-oiled machine, while the Indians struggled to put up even a semblance of a fight in the final which the former won in straight games.

After its loss to Iran in the group league, coach Desh Raj suggested that the team's aim was to make it to the final. “We will give a good fight to Iran in the final,” were his words. Obviously, he knew the summit clash was going to be even more one-sided!

The Indians were pathetic in serving and blocking. Iran's fast attacking style upset the Indian defence; the backline was in such disarray that the Indian attack never got going. There were some brilliant individual performances for the host though with captain Sanjay Kumar and Gurinder Singh, who played in the junior World Championship in Pune where India finished fourth, providing some spark.

Libero Kanagaraj, the youngest member of the team, was all at sea. The lack of supply from the defence meant that setter M. Ukkrapandian too found the going tough.

After winning the first two games comfortably, Iran was up against some resistance from India which put up a spirited fightback. And for the first time in the contest, India was in the lead. However, Iran's Vali Nourmohammadi, Rahman Davoodi, Mojtaba Shaban, libero Golmohammad Sakhavi, Ahmed Babaei and setter Saber Narimanazhad swung into action to level the score (22-22) before scrapping fiercely for the initiative. Iran, finally, clinched the third game 29-27 in 32 minutes.

Iran's libero Sakhavi, stepping in for an injured Ali Hosein, was brilliant throughout, excelling in reception and retrieving well at the back court. He turned the losing moments into a winning one for his team.

India, having won a bronze medal in the Asian Cup in Iran a month ago, and following a successful tour of Poland and Slovenia, looked unbeatable against the other two teams, Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

There was plenty of drama before the tournament began with the Indian High Commission in Islamabad not giving visas to Pakistan. The competition director, A. Ramana Rao, revealed that the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) had decided to cancel the tournament, but the organisers, the West Bengal Volleyball Association (WBVA), insisted on going ahead with the event with just three teams.

Finally when the visas were issued, the Pakistani players were already on their way home. They were then asked to return to Islamabad saying the tour of India was on. But the team was stopped at the Wagah border as the players needed different type of visas. The Indian High Commission officials walking the extra mile to rectify the mistake and issuing of fresh visas came in for praise from the Pakistan team management.

A bleary-eyed Pakistani team flew into Kolkata from New Delhi with hardly any rest. This did tell on the team's performance as Pakistan finished at the bottom of the four-team league.

National anthem fiasco

That the Indian National anthem was played only for 45 seconds before the host's first match did not go unnoticed. Ramana Rao admitted that the anthem was shortened to accommodate the time frame mentioned in the FIVB's international playing protocol.

As per the rule, the protocol is to begin 31 minutes before the start of a match and only 90 seconds were allotted to the National anthem of both countries. “Out of the four participating countries' National anthems, only Iran's is 55 seconds. India's anthem is for 75 seconds, Pakistan's 72 seconds and Kazakhstan's 62 seconds. It is not only India, even other countries' anthems were shortened to 45 seconds,” he explained.

A word of praise will not be out of place for the WBVA for organising the tournament without any hitch. Playing conditions at the Netaji Indoor stadium were of international standard but practice facilities fell short of expectations. The smell of paint at the nearby practice hall, Khudiram Stadium, upset both Iran and Kazakhstan.

THE RESULTS Final: Iran beat India 25-19, 25-22, 29-27.

Group league: Iran beat Pakistan 25-21, 25-19, 25-18; India beat Kazakhstan 25-18, 25-11, 25-22; Kazakhstan beat Pakistan 25-11, 25-22, 25-23; Iran beat India 25-16, 26-24, 23-25, 25-23; Iran beat Kazakhstan 25-20, 25-10, 25-19; India beat Pakistan 25-17, 25-15, 25-22.