CHENNAI: And we’re finally here. After 17 matches spread out over nearly three weeks between six teams, there are just two left standing. Calicut Heroes and Chennai Spartans have, in their names, two cities that have been the backbone of Indian volleyball for years now.
If it was the SAI centre in Kozhikode that kept churning out talents a decade ago, producing the likes of former India captain and Arjuna awardee Tom Joseph, it is Chennai’s Indian Overseas Bank team that has taken up that mantle now, bringing under its umbrella, the likes of current captain M Ukkrapandian, Naveen Raja Jacob and GR Vaishnav. Perhaps it is only fitting that these two cities will contest the inaugural final of an event that promises great things ahead for Indian volleyball.
Although the final will be played out in front of the Spartan’s home fans, it will be Calicut who head into this one as clear favourites. Few teams have even been able to come close to them throughout the tournament — they are yet to be beaten and only in two matches have they lost two sets.
Key to Calicut’s success has been the duo of Ajith Lal C and Jerome Vinith, who make up the top three behind Chennai’s Rudy Verhoeff in the most points scored table. In the semifinal, as Ajith Lal faded, Jerome stepped up his game and ensured that his team did not suffer. “We are really delighted that we have come so far in the tournament,” Jerome said.
“I am thankful to each and every team member and our fans for being a part of this journey. We have played well throughout, we want to keep that up and make sure that the trophy comes home.”
The Spartans, though, will be no pushovers. They started the tournament on the wrong note, with a crushing 1-4 reverse to Calicut. However, they then trounced Black Hawks Hyderabad 4-1, a result which coupled with a similar win over Ahmedabad Defenders, was enough to propel them into the semifinals. The come-from-behind victory over Kochi Blue Spikers on Wednesday would have done a world of good to their confidence. Their main trump card will be Canadian Verhoeff who leads the charts in terms of overall points scored.