KOCHI: 'Kochi's Own, Kerala's Pride', read the backdrop of Kochi Blue Spikers at their jersey launch the other day. And indeed the team belongs to Kochi. One of the six teams in the Pro Volleyball League (PVL), Kochi Blue Spikers, owned by Thomas Muthoot of the Muthoot Pappachan Group, has 12 immensely-talented national and international volleyball players to begin a legacy and make their home city proud.
The first edition of PVL, a game-changer and a path-breaker for volleyball in the nation, is set to serve the ball in Chennai and Kochi on February 4.
The three Malayalees in the team, Manu Joseph, Rohith P and Mujib, along with their coach Jothish T C, are extremely proud of having made it into one of the teams in Kerala. The other being Calicut Heroes.
"I genuinely wished to be part of any team in Kerala at the auction. And, I'm beyond glad to be part of a winning team, the Kochi Blue Spikers," says 29-year-old Manu Joseph, playing the Universal position in the game. Manu stresses how important it is to be part of the first game. "The first match will always go down in history. It will be documented in peoples' minds. It will be a spectacular season," he says. Kannur-raised Manu didn't chose volleyball; The game chose him. "I was selected on the basis of my height," he says, standing tall at 191 cm. Post Sai, Kerala State Youth Volleyball, captaining the team, and then further playing for Railway, Manu has spiked the ball for long. "I want to be part of volleyball's growth in India," he adds.
Volleyball is a common sight in villages across the south, especially Kerala. Having produced the internationally-acclaimed player Jimmy George, nets placed to play ball is a common sight across small hamlets across the state. "The PVL will raise the game to celebrity status," says the statuesque Rohith P, at the Blocker position.
"Kerala has always had players with extremely good calibre. With PVL, the game will have a gigantic break; It will go forward, lifestyles will change, foreign coaches will bring new techniques, professionalism, which is key, will be brought to the game. It will attract the attention of the younger generation," he says. Raised in a Brahmin family in Kodungallur, Rohith jumped walls to play ball. "There is no one in my family inclined towards sports. But when I was 15, I took initiative and set forth," he says. Having captained the Indian team in 2015, Rohith definitely knows how to drive the team forward.
At 23 with just an experience of three years in the field, Mujib thinks he's blessed to be given such an enormous opportunity this early. "It's exciting to be a part. Especially since I've just entered the game. With national players and international players like David Lee, it is going to be one hell of an experience," he says. Coached by G E Sridharan, former volleyball player and Arjuna awardee, the 198-cm tall Mujib had played every sport as a child, except for volleyball. When asked if it took time to gel amongst his team players, he quips, "There is no seniority among players, regardless of their level. Everyone's equal on the ground." Kozhikode-raised Mujib, however, was insistent that he be selected in a team coached under Jothish T C.
"I started volleyball in 1984. Later I captained the Indian Junior and Senior teams," says Jothish T C, hailing from Thrissur. He feels that despite the delay in acceptance, PVL has come at the right time. "I have coached diverse teams before. But with David Lee, a foreign player, it is my first time. A different level of professionalism will be brought to the game and techniques," says Jothish. Will there be the added pressure of playing in the home city? "Not in the slightest," he continues. "We've a good team, and we'll do our best to win," he adds.