A medal at the Asian level after 24 years seems to have done a world of good for the senior Indian spikers. They firmly believe they can also hit the medal bracket at the Asian Games in China starting next week.
“My boys are on a high ever since they won the bronze in the Asian Cup championship in Iran this year. They have never been this confident. I can see it in their eyes and their style of play. So, I don't see any reason why they cannot win a medal in China,” said head coach G.E. Sridharan.
India is in Group ‘B' alongside defending champion South Korea (World No. 19), Kazakhstan (31) and Vietnam (115). “It is comparatively a strong group. But, that's not on our mind as we have defeated both Korea and Kazakhstan this year,” he said.
Winning the first two matches is Sridharan's top priority. “We want to take it step by step. We meet Kazakhstan in the opener on November 14. We have beaten them hollow at the Asian (central zone) championship in Kolkata. We have defeated Korea as well in the Asian Cup in Iran but, we want to tread a careful path. If we manage to spike them out then the rest comes easy,” said Sridharan, a member of the bronze medal winning team of the 1986 Asian Games.
India has not had any moments of joy since then. It failed to qualify for the knockout stages in the last Asian Games in Doha. This time around, the team looks strong and solid with a bunch of young faces. “We have only a couple of players who played the last Asian Games. The rest are relatively new but have had their share of international exposure, thanks to the VFI,” he said.
Even as the whole of India celebrated Diwali, Sridharan and his boys were busy ironing out the grey areas at the Dr. Sivanthi Adithanar Sports Centre of Excellence in Tiruchendur. “They know it is now or never. So, they did not mind sacrificing their holidays for the sake of a medal. Each one of them is hungry to do their country proud,” said Sridharan.
He said the team was strong in the first complex (reception, set and attack). “We are working hard on the second complex (block, defence and counterattack). We are only half as good but we have sort of strengthened it. The performances at the Games will tell you the true story.”
The team has two very good universal stars in Sanjay and Guruvinder, setters in Ukkrapandian and Balvinder, blockers in Sube Singh, Navajeet Singh and Pradeep Kumar and four strong attackers in Vibin George, Guruchand, Naveen Raja Jacob and Srikkanth. “Our blockers, who are more than two metres in height, performed extremely well in the Asian Cup. We also have a very good libero in Kanakaraj and a strong bench too. All the positions look solid. It is just that they will have to combine well,” said Sridharan.
Sridharan prefers not to put the pressure on the team. “There's no point. They know their job and am confident they will it strike it rich.”
Keywords: Asian Games