CHENNAI : The 2018 Asian Games was supposed to be a memorable one for Indian volleyball — their much-awaited return to the international stage after years in the wilderness. Instead, it was a tale of woe for both the men’s and women’s teams in Jakarta with their results leaving a lot of be desired.
The men’s team, in particular, had a disappointing Games. After a decent group phase, where they lost only to eventual semifinalists Qatar, they imploded in the classification rounds. Their quarterfinal loss to Japan was expected but then they lost to two much lower-ranked teams in Pakistan and Myanmar, eventually finishing 12th out of 20 teams. The 2-3 defeat to Myanmar, ranked 40 places below India, was a particularly acrimonious end to their Jakarta sojourn. Their final position was a far cry from the previous edition of the Games in 2014 when they finished a creditable fifth.
The women’s team too performed worse than before with their final position dropping from eighth in Incheon to tenth in Jakarta. They failed to win a single game in the group stages and failed to win a set in four of their five defeats. Though they managed to avoid finishing rock bottom with a victory over Hong Kong in the eleventh place play-off, they lost their final game against Chinese Taipei.
The Volleyball Federation of India’s secretary Ramavtar Singh Jakhar though believes that it is difficult to fault the players. “They have not had the opportunity to play together for so long,” he said. “It was clear that other teams from Asia had become much better in our absence. The women’s team, in particular, showed this lack of experience. They got into good positions in two sets against China who eventually won gold but failed to finish it off both times. The talent is there and there will be better results with experience.”
India’s volleyball teams had been on a two-year exile from international tournaments due to the VFI being split between two factions. Normality was resumed earlier this year after the Jakhar’s faction triumphed in the tug of war but that development came a bit too late for the national teams who went to Jakarta without any competitive experience.
Jakhar knows the teams have to play catch-up but the federation has already drawn up plans to try and close the gap. Foremost on their agenda is the appointment of a foreign coach to oversee the development of both teams. “We have already drawn up a list of names,” Jakhar said. “The foreign coach will work alongside the Indian coaches and we hope to make an announcement soon.”
The upcoming Pro Volleyball League will also solve the inexperience problem to some extent but Jakhar is not leaving it at that. “The teams will go on multiple exposure tours in the near future,” he said. “We have already written to the sports ministry regarding this.”