Mohan Ukkrapandian: ‘We go into semifinals feeling fresh’

Kochi Blue Spikers’ eight-day break ahead of the semifinal will not impact the team adversely, says the 29-year-old captain.

Mohan Ukkrapandian: "Chennai is also home to me, and I am sure I’ll have supporters." Photo: Special Arrangement

Mohan Ukkrapandian, the captain of the Kochi Blue Spikers in the Pro Volleyball League, believes the eight-day break between the last league match and the semifinal against Chennai Spartans will not affect his team adversely.

Kochi’s last league match was also against Chennai Spartans on February 11, when it came back from being two sets down to win the match 3-2.

Speaking to Sportstar at a city hotel here, Ukkrapandian, who is also the captain of India’s national volleyball team, said, “The break we have had can be a negative and a positive. When you play regularly, you have continuity and match practice. But this break has allowed us time to recover after five matches in a short space of time. We now go into the semifinals feeling fresh, and we have practised well.”

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The 29-year-old Ukkrapandian, who plays as a setter, feels that playing in Chennai will not really be a disadvantage for Kochi, which won four of its five matches back home during the first leg of the season. “Playing in Chennai will obviously be different to playing in Kochi. The support we had in Kochi [as the home team] was great. But Chennai is also home to me, and I am sure I’ll have supporters. Personally, I have encountered such challenges while playing in different States where the support is for the home team. I have played many matches at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium before and I also practise there. Even my team-mates have the exposure of playing in different environments and it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Ukkrapandian says he knows the Chennai Spartans players inside out and that his extensive knowledge about them can help his team. “Chennai is my home and I know the players who play for Chennai Spartans. Naveen Raja Jacob, Shelton Moses, Hariharan are among those I know. Hariharan is a junior to me in the State team. I know how they think having played with them. I’ll share the knowledge with my team-mates and they will share with their team-mates what they know about me. I have played with Naveen and Moses for more than 10 years in the State team and we work in the same department, so we know each other inside out. After that, whoever plays better on the day will succeed.”

‘Pro Volleyball League a huge platform’

“Pro Volleyball League (PVL) is indeed a huge platform for all the players, like the Indian Premier League. The matches are broadcast on television and, as a result, all the players have the opportunity to perform in front of a huge audience. The level of following for even the Nationals isn’t much, but here, everyone gets the opportunity to play and showcase their talent,” Ukkrapandian said.

Formidable at home: Kochi Blue Spikers (in blue) had won four of its five matches at home in the first leg. Photo: H. Vibhu

 

The Tamil Nadu-born player believes playing with and against foreign players — every team has two foreigners in the line-up — has helped the Indian crop tactically and psychologically.

“Playing with Indian players, you know each other’s games. But when you play with the foreign players in your team, you pick up on the technique they use, and you also learn how to stop the foreign players in the opposition. There is, of course, so much to learn and PVL is a platform that helps us improve.

“One of the aspects we have learnt from a player like David Lee is to have a positive energy regardless of the [match] situation. At no point, he thinks or talks negatively, even when we lose. The focus is always on the next point. Positive thinking is very important from the Indian team’s perspective. You can have great potential, but if you don’t have a positive mindset, you cannot succeed. Another learning is fighting spirit. We try to fight for every ball, even when we are not in a great position,” he added.