Tamil Nadu's future looks bright

The Tamil Nadu team which won the senior National volleyball championship.

Tamil Nadu's volleyball team looks formidable. The State will dominate the game, at the national-level, for quite sometime. By K. Keerthivasan.

Five of the 12 players, who donned the National colours in the Guangzhou Games, played for Tamil Nadu in the senior National volleyball championship. And this turned out to be the major factor in the host clinching the men's title in the Velammal's Silver Jubilee National championship held in Chennai.

While blocker G. Pradeep, setters M. Ukkrapandian and Balwinder Singh, libero S. Kanagaraj and attacker Naveen Raja Jacob were part of the Indian team's campaign in China, John Christopher and Selvaprabhu played for India at the junior level.

Of course, not all the Indian players made it to the Tamil Nadu team automatically. They were made to play the State championship at Jolarpet, (Vellore District) to be considered for selection. The axing of P. S. Srikanth, who played in Guanzghou, due to poor fitness and form was debated.

But once the tournament began, attention shifted to Tamil Nadu's wonderful performance. G. E. Sridharan, Tamil Nadu's chief coach, did a good job. He shuffled the combination according to the demands of the situation.

Every player rose to the occasion, and the opponents found it tough against Tamil Nadu. Barring the final against Kerala, which went to five sets, Tamil Nadu was hardly challenged.

Is this the best Tamil Nadu team we have had in the last decade?

Sridharan, who coached Tamil Nadu that won the men's title way back in 1994, said it's unfair to compare teams of different eras. “Each team was good at that particular time. The good thing is that volleyball in Tamil Nadu is getting better as new players keep knocking at the doors every year.”

Sridharan attributed the vast talent pool to the tireless work of the coaches. Institutions such as IOB, Chennai Customs, Police, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board and SDAT Sports Hostel provide jobs to volleyball players, which is one of the major reasons the sport is alive and kicking in rural and urban areas. “At my level, I only polish them (the players),” Sridharan said.

John Christopher (left) and S. Kanagaraj (yellow shirt) of Tamil Nadu in action against Kerala in the senior National in Chennai.

Sridharan said John Christopher, Ukkrapandian, Pradeep, Shelton Moses and Kanagaraj played above their expectations in the Nationals while Shaheem has scope to improve further. The Dronacharya Awardee said that there was no need to disturb the winning combination. “If you ask me, the same Tamil Nadu team can continue for another five years, of course with minor changes,” he said.

There were phases in Tamil Nadu's campaign when its performance dipped. The attack didn't fire on all cylinders against Kerala in the league, the block was not effective in the early stages of the final and the first pass was below par. But Tamil Nadu overcame all that with self-confidence and team-work.

P. Sundaram, the team's trainer, who has seen the State volleyball scene for the last three years, agreed with Sridharan that the same team could continue for another five years. “The main reason why I say this is because the average age is 24,” he said.

Sundaram, who was part of a successful Tamil Nadu team which won the Nationals for five consecutive years from 1990 to 1994 (he didn't play in 1994), said the similarity between this team and the team in which he played, was the balance in all departments and the camaraderie among players. “Balance is the key,” he said.

Naveen Raja Jacob, who played a stellar-role in the last edition in Gwalior, didn't rise to expectations in Chennai. But Sundaram disagrees. “He is our main attacker. I think he played extremely well in the final.”

Pradeep, Shelton Moses, John Christopher and Selvaprabhu were the heroes in Tamil Nadu's triumph, according to Sundaram. “Throughout the tournament, they were in peak form,” he said.

Tamil Nadu should maintain the momentum it has gathered with more constructive plans. “We were able to win the Nationals because of our good bench strength and the team has the right mix of youth and experience,” said A. Venkatesan, the team's assistant coach. He said for Tamil Nadu to remain a top team, the Clubs and Institutions should continue to recruit volleyball players. There is little doubt that Tamil Nadu's future is bright.