Delight for Railways, agony for Kerala… It had all the ingredients of a classic. In a cliff-hanger of a men’s summit clash, marked by spectacular action and high drama, holders Indian Railways edged Kerala 3-2 to emerge champions of the 64th Senior National Volleyball Championship here at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
Bangalore: For the second straight year, Railways made it a memorable double in the 64th Senior National Volleyball Championships here on Sunday night. While the men overcame Kerala in a final that was marred by refereeing errors and players showing their displeasure in a manner unbecoming of sports-persons in an edge-of-the-seat thriller at 3-2, the eves overcame southern powerhouse Kerala 3-1 to annex their eighth consecutive premier title and a mind-boggling 30th overall a couple of hours earlier.
Having begun on a poor note like the women, Railways roared back in fine fashion to take a 2-1 lead. But Kerala Lkgh vkSj iwjh tkudkjh didn’t give up despite a few calls going against them. Ragesh was handed a yellow card for unsporting behaviour, but the five-time champions fought back in splendid style to force the issue into the decider. Railways were always playing catch-up in the final set as they struggled to breach the Kerala defence. But a couple of errors by their challengers allowed the champions to level at 7-7. When Prabhagaran came up short against Ragesh and setter Kapil Dev committed a foul, it looked their reign would end.
Playing in front of a near-capacity crowd, both the teams rallied well when the chips were down and exhibited immense energy. Till the final point of the match, there was no clear winner. But much to the relief of the Railways’ supporters, the Karan Choudhary led-side managed to eke out a 19-25, 27-25, 25-20, 20-25, 16-14 victory to take their 15th title at the Senior Nationals, leaving a tearful Kerala team shattered.
In the women’s category too Railways clinched the crown, defeating Kerala 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-27. As in the previous edition of the championship, Railways bagged a grand double to continue their dominance in Indian volleyball.
Vibin George and star player Jerome Vinith were on fire as Kerala took the first set with ease.
With the score reading 24-21 in their favour in the second set, Kerala were in the driver’s seat. But staying true to their stature, Railways saved three set points and bagged the set 27-25.
Kapil Dev and Prabhagaran, the stalwarts of Railways, were silenced in the first set. But the experienced duo came back strongly to lift their side’s spirit as Railways took the third set to leave Kerala in trouble. As the match moved closer to the finish, tempers frayed at both ends and Kerala attacker Ragesh KG was warned with a yellow card for his constant arguments with the referee. Vinith and Ragesh were consistent in their attack and a disciplined Kerala team took the fourth set.
In the decider, Kerala took a healthy 6-3 lead but reception errors from Ragesh and libero Ratheesh CK cost them dear as Railways drew level at 11-11. Kerala though hung in well to save a match points at 14-13 but Railways clinched the tie 16-14. Even as the Railways’ players rejoiced in relief, an upset Vinith went after the main referee Sanjay Kumar.
The attacker questioned the final point, which was given to Railways after Kerala blocker Rohith P over-reached the ball while trying to block.
Earlier, with the solid Kerala defence taking them by surprise, Railways took some time to get into their groove. Kerala ran to a healthy 5-0 lead and sustained their dominance in the first set on the back of a fine show from attackers Sruthi M and skipper Rekha S.
Railways’ senior player Priyanka Bora was all over the place and their libero Fousath KK misfired in the first set as Kerala remained in control. Railways pulled up their socks in the second set and improved on their first pass. On the contrary, Kerala made too many unforced errors to gift points to their opponents.
The champions called the shots in the third set and their attack was single-handedly led by Nirmal. The 18-year old was unstoppable and was consistent in sending in accurate smashes. Setter Terin Anthony too joined the party, with her precise work proving to be effective.
Nirmal was also involved in a couple of fine blocking instances and she fittingly gave her team the championship point with a powerful smash.
Results: Final: Men: Indian Railways bt Kerala 3-2 (19-25, 27-25, 25-20, 20-25, 16-14).
Women: Indian Railways bt Kerala 3-1 (19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-17).
Third-fourth playoff: Men: Tamil Nadu bt Punjab 3-1 (25-15, 25-16, 25-27, 25-21).
Women: Tamil Nadu bt West Bengal 3-0 (25-16, 25-17, 25-19).