VFI should find means to enlarge the base

M. C. RAMAN

SO far the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) has concentrated only on organising major events like the National championships, Federation Cup and National League, the fifth edition of which was hosted by Tirupur Sports & Education Trust, at Tirupur in the first week of May, 2002.

This year, the VFI has made a notable change in the participation of teams in the Federation Cup and National League for seniors. The Cup competition, which was conducted for clubs, has been made an event for State outfits. Tamil Nadu won the Cup at Payyanur in February. The National League, which was organised for States, will be for leading club sides in future. Indian Overseas Bank, the Chennai club, which won the 2000 Federation Cup title at Tuticorin, became the first title holder in the National League at Tirupur in front of over 12,000 spectators.

Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai, which won the National League men's title in Tirupur.-K. GAJENDRAN

Apart from these changes, there are some other aspects which the VFI should look into. Unlike the previous years, the clubs for the National League were chosen by the Federation. The very fact that the State associations are not coming forward to host the preliminary rounds before the super league, shows their administration in poor light. In fact, there should be more preliminaries than two, if the VFI wants to enlarge the base.

Most of the northern States exist only on paper. The VFI should prompt them to be more active. If they don't, then the Federation should be pro-active and reach out directly to the good clubs in those States as the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) is doing. The VFI must invite the club officials to one centre and should hear their problems. If they are willing to conduct preliminaries, the VFI should encourage it.

Unless this is done, there is no scope for growth of the game in the north. Without clubs, it is impossible to build strong national teams for international competitions. There is no denying the fact that the strong clubs should be in the super league. But before that more clubs should come forward to participate in the preliminaries. This is one aspect.

Secondly, the Federation should identify centres like Tirupur, Chennai, Kozhikode, Payyanur, Udipi, Guntur, Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad, where the game is immensely popular and the spectators patronise volleyball. Similar centres like Renukoot in north enjoy the popularity of the game and these centres should be given the preference to host.

Even in the major events, considered for selection, the approach of clubs and State teams is not a healthy one. They come to venues unprepared or under prepared. Take this fifth National League championship held in Tirupur. IOB and Kochi Refineries fought for the top honours. But there were other outfits who could really put them on the mat, but failed badly. South Central Railway, Secunderabad, strong on paper, could not even qualify for the second phase and crashed out much to the annoyance of the crowd. Similarly, Cochin Port Trust looked like a side out of touch for some time. Punjab Police, a popular squad in Tirupur, was a depleted one without its deceptive spiker Manoj Kumar and blocker Ratanlal. The team could not even qualify for the four-team super league. Southern Railway too was not in good shape to challenge the rivals, though it managed to qualify. Karnataka Postal really struggled.

However, Haryana State Industrial Development Corporation (HSIDC) was in focus right through the tournament and showed that it could be a threat to leading outfits in the future. The team is just an year old, roping in former Punjab and Kerala players like Amir Singh and Raghuveer Singh who was with Cochin Port Trust once. Setter Darshan Singh, Sunil Kumar, Surjeet Singh and Rampal added strength to the team and HSIDC fought well to qualify for the next stage - a big achievement considering the inexperience of the team and the experience of the group teams like SCR and CPT.

SCR had India's No.1 setter and pro Ravikanth Reddy. But its blocker Ramana had slowed down because of age and spiker Venkateshwar Rao lost the jump he once had and put up an unimpressive show. Sudhakar and Srikanth hardly did anything to shore up the game. Similarly, libero Raj Vinod's back court defence was good, but CPT did not have the attacking strength to move up the ladder. Ansar, Shijo Thomas, Vinod and Sunil Kumar were good in patches. Overall, CPT's performance left much to be desired. HSIDC rallied brilliantly to turn the tables on CPT in Group A.

South Central Railway, Secunderabad, with the trophy. It ended the monopoly of Southern Railway, Chennai.-K. GAJENDRAN

Since the Asian championship type of format was introduced, the teams that lost in the first phase found it a big handicap in the super league as they were not allowed to meet again. Both HSIDC and Southern Railway, who lost the preliminary league encounters to IOB and Kochi Refineries, found it too tough to survive in the super league.

So this brought two strong outfits face to face in the final showdown. IOB made a rousing start by taking a two-set lead and Sivabalan was steady in spiking right through. Manjunath, Rajesh, Joby Joseph and Harun Khan did well both in defence and attack. Setter Thulasi was steady. But when Refineries changed the pattern of the game in the third set and used second like attacker Ismail more than main spikers Tom Joseph, Jayaprakash and Kishore Kumar, the Kochi team turned the match round to make it 2-2. Setter Anil kept the attack going with intelligent boosting. However, in the decider, IOB regained its touch with quick finish at the net and won the title and Rs. one lakh cash prize. Refineries finished runner-up.

The men's event did not throw up surprises. But the women's event did. South Central Railway, Secunderabad, ended ihe monopoly of Southern Railway, Chennai. The Chennai team's record has been impressive in the Federation Cup. But its campaign ended in disaster in the National League as it lost to SCR.

Southern Railway was unlucky in a way. Its blocker Shiji Kurian was indisposed. Another main player Mini Elizabeth had an injured hand. Geeta Raju's spiking dipped badly. Only veteran Salomi Ramu tried her best. But SCR's net defence was superb. Nagavardini, Latha, Srilatha, Uma and Shazia Sheikh challenged every shot and brought tremendous pressure on the fragile Southern Railway defence. Setter Jyothi was neat and sharp all the time. So SCR sprang a surprise by capturing the women's title, beating all the teams in the super league. As KSEB had lost to SCR in the first phase itself, its chances diminished and came third behind runner-up Southern Railway.

In fact, there were some interesting results too. GKM Foundation, Chennai, dealt a big blow by beating SCR in Group B. In a three-way tie among SCR, KSEB and GKM, the Chennai side was eliminated on quotient. The Group A provided a lot of excitement. In Group B, Bangalore Club was better, but Kolkatta Club was a poor choice. KSEB's game heavily depended on spiker Gisha Thomas. When she failed, the team also sank.

The results:

Men: Super league: IOB beat Kochi Refineries 25-23, 25-23, 20-25, 21-25, 15-10; beat Southern Railway 25-18, 25-23, 25-19; HSIDC beat Southern Railway 25-17, 25-13, 19-25, 21-25, 15-10.

Women: Super league: South Central Railway beat Kerala State Electricity Board 25-23, 17-25, 25-17, 25-17; beat Southern Railway 25-15, 25-14, 28-26; Southern Railway beat Bangalore Club 25-18, 26-24, 25-20.