The good times are back in Indian volleyball.

Three years after the Pro Volley League took players to a heady high only to end up as a one-season wonder, with the Volleyball Federation of India terminating its contract with the PVL’s co-owner Baseline Ventures, the spikers are back in the glamorous league.

The event has a fresh start and a new name — it’s now the RuPay Prime Volleyball League, and for a change, the seven team owners are all stakeholders in the league.

The Prime Volleyball League, organised by Baseline Ventures, will be held at Hyderabad’s Gachibowli Stadium behind closed doors from February 5 to 27. It will be a private affair this time with the VFI having no role in it.

READ: PVL all set for kick-off, Kochi to lock horns with Hyderabad

“This is a completely private thing with zero interference from anyone. That’s a big learning that we had. All the team owners have a stake in the league and everybody now is a party to the league’s success,” said Tuhin Mishra, the managing director of Baseline Ventures. Once again, the PVL is being planned as a one-season event with next year’s plan depending on the situation then.

“We have no comments on the Prime Volleyball League,” said Nalakath Basheer, the associate secretary of VFI, which is currently not recognised by the Union Sports Ministry. “We are planning to conduct an Indian Volley League once the pandemic worries are over. A 14-member committee has been constituted for this, I’m one of them. We will sort out the issues and have our IVL.”

Players not worried about nationals

The VFI will also be hosting the senior Nationals around the same time. It is scheduled to be held in Bhubaneswar from February 7 to 13, and Basheer said: “almost all the teams will be playing in the Nationals, including Services and Railways.” The players, however, don’t appear worried.

“All the players are concentrating on the Prime Volleyball League. No one has thought about the Nationals so far because everyone is mentally prepared for the Prime League,” Indian captain A. Karthik, the Kochi Blue Spikers’ star and one of the league’s most expensive players, told Sportstar .

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Top star: Indian captain A. Karthik, who is one of the most expensive players of Prime Volley League, will be playing for the Kochi Blue Spikers.

 

The three-year wait for the second edition of the PVL has been agonising for players, especially the senior stars who don’t have many years left on court, and they are wiser from the experience.

“Wherever it is in the world, we will be happy to play the PVL. Just to get back the league is a big blessing for us. We just want the league to happen,” said Calicut Heroes’ international Jerome Vinith. The PVL was shifted from the initially-planned Kochi to Hyderabad owing to the rising COVID cases in Kerala.

With the COVID numbers rising everywhere, the pre-season preparations were not exactly smooth. Foreign players play an important role in teams’ success in the PVL but almost all the sides did not know when their foreign players — eight of the league’s 14 foreigners were from the U.S. — would land in the country.

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“You can’t say which team is strong until the foreigners arrive...we are completely blank. We have seen only American David Lee (the 2008 Olympic champion and 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist who is now with Calicut). All other foreigners are new, they have sent some of the video clippings, we cannot judge things with that,” said M.H. Kumara, the coach of 2019 PVL champion Chennai Spartans, who is now with Kochi Blue Spikers.

David Lee, the star attraction

Just as in 2019, Lee could be the biggest name in the 2022 PVL.

“No doubt, David Lee is a very important name. I would also like to think we have two good foreign players (Venezuala’s Tokyo Olympian Luis Antonio Arias Guzman and Cuban Henry Bell). But there are also many players who haven’t been playing perhaps indoor volleyball for a long time...I have my concerns,” said Hyderabad Black Hawks’ head coach Ruben Wolochin of Argentina, the PVL’s lone foreign coach.

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International flavour: Hyderabad Black Hawks’ Cuban attacker Henry Bell (left) and Venezuela's universal Luis Antonio Arias Guzman. The two were among the first foreigners to arrive for the 2022 Prime Volleyball League.

 

“Guzman was part of the Venezuelan national team (in Tokyo). But since the Olympics, he hasn’t been playing official games because he couldn’t find a professional contract.”

Fitness and form of the foreign players appear to be a major concern for almost all the sides and the delay in their arrival hampered teams’ preparations.

Almost all the teams were in a bio-bubble during the pre-season and this meant that friendly matches with local teams had to be scrapped. There were also two COVID cases in one team but overall, a majority of the teams appear to have come through the pre-season safe.

Calicut favourite for title

With universal Jerome Vinith and attacker C. Ajithlal, who was adjudged as the MVP of the 2019 PVL, along with David Lee, Calicut appears to be the best team and should go in as the favourite for the title.

“We want to win the cup,” said Vinith who often makes opponents run helter skelter with his thunderbolts. Vinith and Ajithlal had been part of the Calicut side which finished runner-up in the 2019 PVL.

Kolkata Thunderbolts, with internationals Ashwal Rai and Vinit Kumar, and Chennai Blitz, with its very experienced and wily setter M. Ukkrapandian, attacker Naveen Raja and blocker G.S. Akhin, also look very good.

A challenge for Chander

“Calicut and Kolkata look strong. Our team is also very good with very experienced players. It’s a big challenge for me because of Chennai’s record of winning the 2019 PVL,” said Chander Singh, the Chennai Blitz coach. “We are working very hard to maintain that.”

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New beginnings: The Kochi Blue Spikers playing during a training session at their base in Triprayar for the Prime Volleyball League

 

Southern domination

Incidentally, five — Chennai Blitz, Calicut Heroes, Kochi Blue Spikers, Bengaluru Torpedoes, and Hyderabad Black Hawks — of the seven teams in the PVL are from the South with the other two being Kolkata Thunderbolts and Ahmedabad Defenders. And except Kumara, all the coaches are new to the PVL and it includes the very experienced Sunny Joseph (Kolkata Thunderbolts) and former international Kishore Kumar (Calicut Heroes).

When the Hyderabad Black Hawks meet Kochi Blue Spikers in the PVL’s opener on February 5, and as the action is telecast live on Sony Ten, players will be hoping that the league stays strong and consistent, offering them a wonderful stage year after year.

They will be hoping that the good times go on and on.