Uttaranchal dents Railways' track record

KIRTI PATIL

The victorious Uttaranchal men's team.-R. V. MOORTHY

PERHAPS, there is no remedy for a deceit. Perhaps.

In a bustling Haryana village called Chautala, tucked in between the hinterlands of Punjab and Rajasthan, a game of deceit, antipathy, and volleyball was played.

That, Uttaranchal emerged as the top force in men's volleyball may have made a good advertisement for the sport. But the way it achieved the title has opened the Pandora's box, which needs the immediate attention of the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI).

Acting on a protest filed by Uttaranchal, the VFI Technical Control Committee ordered a re-match of the quarterfinal tie won by Railways.

Whatever may be the point of discord, once both the teams left the court after their captains had duly signed the official score-sheet, the match stood completed.

Later that night, the Director of Competition, B. K. Ojha, sought to explain that the Railways players had misbehaved with the match referee after the now-scratched quarterfinal. He, however, left many questions unanswered. Railways had beaten Uttaranchal 25-21, 25-17, 13-25, 29-27.

Uttaranchal had based its complaint on the premise that when the two teams were contesting the 50th point in the fourth set, an extra ball was thrown into the court forcing the referee to call that rally null.

At 25-24 in favour of Uttaranchal, and the ball also in its possession, a winning smash would have forced the match into the fifth set. Uttaranchal argued just that, and the VFI Technical Control Committee obliged. Now, the ball in its possession does not really mean that point is won. The ball could always get blocked.

And, considering that the contentious ball was thrown in by the Railways women, who sat on the sidelines to cheer their men, what stopped the referee from taking a harsher decision on the spot?

The ball, the VFI claims to have in its possession, bears the Indian Railways mark — hand-written `I. Railways' with a red marker pen.

Railways maintained that the ball came from the adjacent court where the Punjab and Karnataka teams were warming up for their quarterfinal match.

This leaves us with two equations. If one believes the Railways' argument then the referee was right in calling that point null and carrying on with the game. And, if one sides with Uttaranchal, then the VFI had several options — either summoning the players who threw the ball in or scratching the team from the competition. Instead it took the softer route of replaying the match, setting a new precedent in the history of volleyball.

Indian Railways, which won the women's title.-R. V. MOORTHY

On that fateful day, there were eight quarterfinal matches on schedule — four each in the men's and women's sections. But nobody thought that the Railways-Uttaranchal encounter would turn out to be so.

Expectedly, everyone's attention was at the nearby Youth Club Stadium where a potential high-calibre match between Haryana and Tamil Nadu was to take place. Even as the Haryana-TN encounter grew into a kind of slugfest with the unruly crowd adding to the trouble, a journalist from a national daily decided to leave the show mid-way and witness the Railways-Uttaranchal match.

The match there was just about to start. During the 85-minute proceedings there were several occasions when the players got into arguments with the referee over the close line calls. On the mud court with chalk-powder markings, such disputes are part of the volleyball game. But Uttaranchal, which had progressed from the seeding group `D', took every point very seriously. The young blood in the team was fired up to take on the might of the Railways.

When sledging crept in, the atmosphere became very tense. And, so in the fourth set that unfortunate incident took place. Sensibly, the Railways women's team was sitting on the sidelines of the court in which the Railways men were playing the fourth set. It is still a mystery how someone could have thrown the ball on to the other side without getting noticed by so many in the crowd, including the referee.

In the re-match the next day, the Railways made an unceremonious exit. Maybe they were not prepared for the match, mentally and physically. It is incomprehensible that a team such as the Railways could lose the match 0-3 — a 25-21, 25-19, 25-18 in favour of Uttaranchal.

It was as if the Railways wanted to leave the place as early as possible. In the third set, at 18-16, the Railways gave up hope when a charged up Uttaranchal fired smashes all over. The architects of Uttaranchal's win were international Y. Subba Rao and Abhijeet Bhattacharya. Ironically, these two represented Andhra Pradesh in the National Games, in Hyderabad.

This brings to the fore, the issue of domicile, something that has been conveniently set aside time and again. Both Subba Rao and Abhijeet are employees of the ONGC, which has its headquarters in Dehra Dun. And, since Uttaranchal had not qualified for the National Games, the duo had sought `no objection' from both the State and the employer. Is it time for us to graduate, and introduce professional players in the National Games?

Once Uttaranchal was through to the semifinals, there was no stopping the team. It whipped Tamil Nadu 3-1 with Abhijeet, Subba Rao and Rathish Nair excelling. The versatile R. Kamraj, who joined Uttaranchal after his request to play for Tamil Nadu was rejected by the State federation, was the key. Kamraj gave a kind of display that is normally expected from a libero. Even while he guarded the backcourt, Kamraj was quick to be in the thick of the action and smash winners.

In the other half of the draw, a resurgent Punjab and the two-time champion, Kerala, progressed for a semi-final showdown. Despite Tom Joseph not in his usual class, Kerala rode on the brilliance of Kishore Kumar, B. Anil and A. Ismail. Though the stakes were heavily in favour of Punjab, barring skipper Jagbir Singh, the other team members failed to impress. Kerala blanked Punjab with a 25-20, 25-20, 25-17 verdict.

The final was a different affair. Uttaranchal was on a high and unstoppable. And Kerala hardly realised what hit the team. The way Abhijeet played, it gave the impression that India does have the talent of international class. His smashes were strong and perfect, usually landing in the unmarked area. Add the gangling Subba Rao to the defence and you have a solid wall to protect the smashes.

In just over an hour, Uttaranchal thrashed Kerala 25-21, 25-22, 25-18 and won its maiden trophy. Punjab had the consolation of finishing third, beating Tamil Nadu.

It was mediocre volleyball in the women's section. With simultaneous matches scheduled every day but for the final, there was hardly any motivation to spend time and witness women's matches. Expectedly, Railways kept winning its league and the knock-out matches. The only interest was to spot Railways' opponent in the final. Thankfully, West Bengal added some punch to an otherwise dour volleyball and went past some good teams before meeting Kerala in the semifinals. In an hour and 40 minutes long match, West Bengal almost gave a scare to Kerala, which was made to sweat on a chilly evening. Kerala held its nerves before winning the encounter 19-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-23, 15-9.

The final was eagerly contested. Kerala won the first set 27-25, but then on Railways was unstoppable. It raced through in the next three sets in 58 minutes 25-19, 25-19, 25-9, and won its 20th National title.

The results:

Men: Final: Uttaranchal bt Kerala 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-18).

Third place play-off: Punjab bt Tamil Nadu 3-1 (28-26, 25-20, 19-25, 25-6).

Semifinals: Kerala bt Punjab 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-17); Uttaranchal bt Tamil Nadu 3-1 (21-25, 25-21, 25-10, 25-18). Quarterfinals: Uttaranchal bt Railways 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-18); Tamil Nadu bt Haryana 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 25-15, 25-18); Kerala bt Services 3-0 (25-23, 33-31, 25-22); Punjab bt Karnataka 3-1 (25-22, 25-18, 23-25, 27-25).

Women: Final: Railways bt Kerala 3-1 (25-27, 25-19, 25-19, 25-9).

Third place play-off: Karnataka bt West Bengal 3-1 (25-18, 25-22, 22-25, 25-19).

Semifinals: Railways bt Karnataka 3-0 (25-13, 25-18, 25-17); Kerala bt West Bengal 3-2 (19-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-23, 15-9). Quarterfinals: Railways bt Chandigarh 3-0 (25-7, 25-22, 25-9); Karnataka bt Punjab 3-0 (25-11, 25-16, 27-25); West Bengal bt Tamil Nadu 3-2 (23-25, 25-20, 26-28, 25-11, 15-6); Kerala bt Andhra Pradesh 3-0 (26-24, 25-22, 25-22).