A bridge to the next level

Beginnings are tough but a move has been made. And that’s a start that the players had been longing for years.

The league, which has unique 15-point sets and a bonus point for ace service, has managed to rope in some of the world’s best players, including American David Lee, the 2008 Olympic champion and the 2016 Rio bronze medallist. Lee (left), poses with his Kochi Blue Spikers teammate Andrej Patuc.   -  Special Arrangement

In his prime, more than 35 years ago, G. E. Sridharan played in the Italian Volleyball League’s Second Division, the A2. Jimmy George, among India’s finest players ever, played in the same division.

“Every club had two foreign players and we were the two there. A little later, Jimmy got promoted to A1 which had some of the world’s best players, including many Olympic and World champions. I was there from 1982 to 1986 and I’ve played with many Americans and Yugoslavians,” said Sridharan, a long-time Indian volleyball coach.

“The volleyball league helped Italians in a big way and a few years later, they went on to win the World Championships.”

Sridharan believes that the RuPay Pro Volleyball League, which began in Kochi and which will move to Chennai later this month for the final phase, will be the start of something big in the country.

India which was ranked No. 39 a few years ago, has now fallen to 131, virtually the bottom of the world body FIVB’s table.

“For three years, we did not play any international tournament and because of that, there were many problems. Now that foreign players are playing in the Indian League, the quality of our players will go up,” said the Arjuna and Dronacharya awardee, in a chat with Sportstar.

“Japan and Korea have strong pro leagues, there are many Americans and Africans playing there, India will get stronger once we get our league right after the initial hiccups. This is the right way to go.”

Keeping things quiet

Despite this being the PVL’s inaugural edition, the run-up to the big show was very quiet. It was not easy to talk to many teams and information flow was very slow.

It looked like the sport wanted to keep the big league’s volume low, for it had suffered enough from the infighting in the Volleyball Federation of India.

“There is a worry that somebody could come up with a stay order from the courts, there are people who don’t want the league to happen,” said a former international.

“Even the teams’ training venues were virtually a secret to many.”

G. S. Akhin, the Chennai Spartans’ star blocker, says, “The fitness sessions were supervised by some of the best in the business, some of them had worked with the Mumbai Indians IPL team earlier. Only now, we understand what professionalism is all about. Had we got this sort of training earlier, the Indian team would have reached another level."   -  R. Ragu

 

With that being the situation, the players’ only prayer was that nothing should stop the league and that the PVL should get stronger with each year.

The league, which has unique 15-point sets and a bonus point for ace service, has managed to rope in some of the world’s best players, including American David Lee, the 2008 Olympic champion and the 2016 Rio bronze medallist, and this has brought some crucial lessons for the Indians.

“We could see how focused the foreign players were, we noticed how differently they trained and they mingled well with us,” said Jerome Vineeth, the Calicut Heroes captain.

Meanwhile, the pro world proved to be an eye-opener for G. S. Akhin, the Chennai Spartans’ star blocker.

“The fitness sessions were supervised by some of the best in the business, some of them had worked with the Mumbai Indians IPL team earlier,” said Akhin.

“We got new fitness moves, things that appeared to help each muscle, moves that help us avoid injuries, it was not just lifting weights which we were used to earlier.

“Only now, we understand what professionalism is all about. Had we got this sort of training earlier, the Indian team would have reached another level.”

That is the PVL’s main goal, to take Indian volleyball to the next level.

Beginnings are tough but a move has been made. And that’s a start that the players had been longing for years.