Peaking at the right time

Champion again...Kerala team members celebrate after defeating Uttarakhand in the final.-Pics: S. PATRONOBISH

While Indian Railways lived up to its billing as the favourite in the women's section, it wasn't so in the case of Kerala in the men's section, where the competition, especially among the top eight, was very intense. Only the best team on that day could succeed, writes S. Sabanayakan.

The passion and professionalism that Kerala brought to its game in the National volleyball championship was remarkable. Playing with verve and vision through the eight-day tournament in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, Kerala regained the crown it had won exactly a decade ago here.

In the women's section, Railways set a record by winning its 27th National title, a mark that could stand the test of time. Since losing to Kerala in the 2007 National Championship in Jaipur, Indian Railways has had a fine run, winning four titles on the trot.

While Railways lived up to its billing as the favourite, it wasn't so in the case of Kerala. The competition in the men's section, especially among the top eight, was so intense that only the best team on that day could succeed.

Tamil Nadu, which won the National title eight times, the last two coming in succession (in 2009 and 2010), was aiming to score a hat-trick, but its aspirations were quashed by Uttarakhand, a team of ageing players who played to their strength and to a plan, in the semifinals.

Despite playing fluently to top Group A, the defending champion just about managed to down former champion Punjab in the quarterfinals in five games. TN's tale of woe was complete when it failed to even win its third place match against Services.

Last year's runner-up Kerala peaked steadily. Playing two five-setters in Group B league gave the team enough time and opportunity to work out a strategy based on its strengths. Once into the knockout stage, Kerala did not look back. It beat Karnataka, Services and Uttarakhand in straight games.

Veteran Tom Joseph was the fulcrum of Kerala. He guided the youngsters in his team at crucial moments. He was superb as a spiker, belting out winners at will.

Manu Joseph was a revelation in the final with his attacking ability. Tom and P. Rohith along with T. Azeez put up solid blocks while libero Kiran Philip, T. S. Ajesh and Vibin M. George played extremely well in the backcourt.

Tom Joseph was adjudged the Man of the Tournament.

Uttarakhand played well, but in patches. The team's lack of bench strength and poor recovery was the main reason for its failure. Clever serves from Kerala players made it difficult for Uttarakhand to come up with good first passes that were so important in building up attacks.

TN's loss in the semifinals could be attributed to the team's lack of variety in attack, unimaginative blocking, poor first passes and terrible defence. As the tall Uttarakhand players controlled the net by putting up stiff blocks, the TN spikers bit the dust.

Living up to its billing… the Indian Railways team which won a record 27th National title.-

Services' victory over Haryana came against the run of play. Though Haryana dominated the match, it was Services which played the crucial points well to triumph in five sets. Services, however, was no match for Kerala, who played methodically, in the semifinals.

In the women's final, Railways made a short work of Kerala. Unlike their male counterparts who have conceded ground to other State teams, the Railway women continued to stay in the limelight.

Even before the championship started, it was a foregone conclusion that Railways and Kerala would figure in the final. Such was the lack of standard in the women's section. West Bengal finished third, ahead of Andhra Pradesh, both the teams enjoying the services of discarded Railway players.

Railways' setter Terin Anthony was adjudged the Best Player of the Tournament.

This was the third time that Raipur hosted the Nationals. The Balbir Juneja Indoor Stadium, where the tournament was held this time, provided the best of playing conditions to the spikers with two teraflex courts. The organising committee, headed by Mohammad Akram Khan, did an outstanding job. With the tournament attracting good crowds, Raipur could become a major venue in the near future.

* * * Double standards

Despite the success of the National volleyball championship, there was a major controversy that the Control Committee of the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) failed to handle well.

On the opening day, Delhi fielded an ‘illegal' player against former champion Andhra Pradesh without acquiring the mandatory NOC (no objection certificate). When Andhra Pradesh lodged a protest against this, it was turned down by the Control Committee, citing a lapse in the procedure. However, nothing was done against the player, who is working with the CRPF and is registered with Rajasthan, a fact admitted by the Rajasthan officials themselves.

In another case, when Odisha fielded two players from Andhra Pradesh without the mandatory NOC in the match against Chhattisgarh women's team, some of the VFI officials tutored the host on how to file a protest. In the board room Odisha was docked the match — which the team won 3-1 — and the result was reversed. The two ‘illegal' players were also barred from taking further part in the tournament.

Chhattisgarh women went on to play in the quarterfinals while the efforts of AP men to return to the top-eight ended abruptly. In the former case the decision smacked of nepotism. The Control Committee hiding behind procedure and denying justice to Andhra Pradesh should be viewed seriously.

* * *

Men's final: Kerala beat Uttarakhand 25-22, 25-22, 25-13.

Third place: Services beat TN 25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 28-26.

Semifinals: Uttarakhand beat TN 25-13, 19-25, 25-22, 19-25, 15-13; Kerala beat Services 25-15, 25-22, 25-21.

Quarterfinals: TN beat Punjab 21-25, 25-13, 26-28, 25-20, 15-13; Uttarakhand beat Railways 25-22, 25-22, 25-19; Services beat Haryana 25-23, 25-27, 19-25, 25-17, 15-12; Kerala beat Karnataka 25-20, 25-20, 25-13.

Women's final: Railways beat Kerala 25-12, 25-14, 25-16.

Third place: West Bengal beat AP 25-23, 25-13, 25-18.

Semifinals: Railways beat AP 25-20, 25-13, 25-17; Kerala beat West Bengal 25-23, 25-16, 25-12.

Quarterfinals: Railways beat UP 25-10, 25-15, 25-8; AP beat HP 25-22, 28-30, 25-13, 25-17; West Bengal beat Karnataka 25-14, 17-25, 25-21, 25-20; Kerala beat Tamil Nadu 25-20, 25-12, 25-19.