Still a long way from glory

The victorious Railways men's team.-

At the National Championship, most of the matches up to the quarterfinals were one-sided. The tournament picked up momentum only from the knockout phase. The standard of Indian volleyball definitely leaves a lot to be desired. A report by S. Sabanayakan.

The huge difference in standards among the various state teams and the institutional teams came to light at the 55th National Volleyball Championship in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, recently.

To put the whole thing in perspective, only five teams — Railways, Kerala, Haryana, Uttaranchal and Services — in the men's section and two teams — Railways and Kerala — on the distaff side were of some quality.

That the standard of Indian volleyball is far from impressive is proved by the fact that the national men's team finished only ninth at the Doha Asian Games. Besides, barring the South Asian Federation Games, India's performance in other major tournaments has been dismal.

The last time India won a medal at the Asian Games, and that too bronze, was in Seoul in 1986. Apart from this, India has won only two other medals at the Asian Games — a bronze in 1958 and a silver in 1962. The women's team, on the other hand, has so far won only a bronze medal at the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962.

In world rankings, India is placed No. 27 in the men's section and No. 85 in the women's section. In Asia, Indian men are ranked No. 4 and the women No. 11.

The picture, however, is rather encouraging in the junior (under-21) and youth (under-19) sections. In the Junior Asian Championships, the Indian men won silver medals in 1994 and 2002 and a bronze in 2006. And in the World Championships in 1995, 2003 and 2005, the team finished ninth. India (men) won a silver medal in the 2003 World Youth Championship, but finished ninth in 2005.

In the continental competition, India won a gold medal in 2003 and a bronze in 2005. The Indian juniors are ranked No. 11 in the world, while the youth team is placed ninth.

The victorious Railways women's team.-

In the fast changing scenario of World and Asian volleyball where tactics, fitness levels and the speed of the game have improved considerably, the Indians have lagged behind. Or else, how does one interpret the repeated failures of the Indian teams to occupy the higher rungs in the World and continental championships.

All the leading coaches in the country, including National coach Shyam Sundar Rao, are unanimous in their observations that a foreign coach is not the answer to the problems of Indian volleyball. They are of the view that the Indian players need to be exposed to scientific training and better opposition. To achieve this planning has to begin right away, especially in the junior and youth sections.

A uniform coaching programme all round the year, evolved through close interaction between the leading coaches of the country, and an effective system of spotting and nurturing talent are some of the points put forward by these observers to bail out Indian volleyball from the present position.

Lack of money and the absence of a proper professional system have been the bane of Indian volleyball. Players depend on the public and banking sectors for employment. In this regard, the Indian Railways has been one of the leading institutions to support volleyball apart from other sports. Therefore, it was no surprise that the Railways teams, having abundant talent in their ranks, won the M. M. Joseph Trophy (men) for the 13th time and the G. T. K. Sivasubramaniam Trophy (women) for the 23rd time.

Twenty-six teams in the men's section and 23 in the women's section took part in the 10-day championship, organised by the Chhattisgarh State Volleyball Association.

The league-cum-knockout tournament went through 56 matches in the men's category and 42 in the women's section to identify the two best teams. Most of the matches up to the quarterfinals were one-sided and the tournament picked up momentum only from the knockout phase.

The Results Men:

Final: Railways bt Kerala 31-29, 25-19, 25-13. 3rd place:

Haryana bt Uttaranchal 25-18, 25-16, 25-21.

Semifinals: Kerala bt Uttaranchal 23-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-22; Railways bt Haryana 22-25, 25-23, 25-20, 26-24.

Final standings: 1. Railways, 2. Kerala, 3. Haryana, 4. Uttaranchal, 5. Services, 6. Tamil Nadu, 7. Karnataka, 8. Punjab.

Women:

Final: Railways bt Kerala 25-12, 25-21, 25-18. 3rd place: Tamil Nadu bt West Bengal 25-19, 22-25, 25-20, 25-07.

Semifinals: Railways bt Tamil Nadu 25-14, 25-10, 25-17; Kerala bt West Bengal 25-13, 25-19, 25-22.

Final standings: 1. Railways, 2. Kerala, 3. Tamil Nadu, 4. West Bengal, 5. Maharashtra, 6. Andhra Pradesh, 7. Delhi, 8. Chandigarh.