It will be challenged by title aspirant TN which knocked out last year’s runner-up Uttarakhand
Defending champion Kerala survived a scare to defeat crowd favourite Haryana 25-18, 25-23, 20-25, 18-25, 15-10 in the men’s semifinals of the 61st National volleyball championship here on Monday.
It was a remarkable fight back by Kerala as it blocked solid in the decider after having allowed the energetic Haryana to run away with the third and fourth sets. In the final, Kerala will be challenged by title aspirant Tamil Nadu, which had beaten it in the league phase.
The crowd came alive as Haryana rose to the occasion to provide a fitting challenge to the champion team. Kerala froze, possibly in the evening chill, as Haryana ran away with seven of the last eight points in the third set to get back into the fight.
In the fourth set also, Haryana jumped away from 16-16, allowing only two points to Kerala which looked to have run out of ideas and run into a concrete wall. What stood out was Haryana’s ability to provide the finesse of touch rather than rely on brute force, as it dropped gentle bombs to cause panic in the Kerala camp.
Kerala had played solid in the first two sets when it kept Haryana at arm’s length.
It handled the second part of each set with composure after an even tussle in the earlier phase. K.S. Ratheesh was solid for Kerala through the match and it was he who brought the curtains down with a smash on match point.
Kerala had led 8-5 on changing sides in the decider and it blocked superbly to pay back Haryana in kind. While Tom Joseph, P. Rohith, Vibin M. George and T.S. Ajesh played better than the rest for Kerala, skipper Sanjay Kumar was outstanding for Haryana. Coach Om Prakash rotated his players smartly to keep them fresh, but Haryana ran out of steam at the crunch.
In the other semifinal, Tamil Nadu knocked out last year’s runner-up Uttarakhand 25-21, 25-14, 25-21. It was a clinical performance by the eight-time champion Tamil Nadu as it combined solid defence, reverberating attack and a touch of class with deft placements.
With five of the six players in the starting line-up figuring in the national team, it was not a surprise that Tamil Nadu was able to dictate terms and pull ahead.
G. Pradeep, G.R. Vaishnav, Naveen Raja Jacob and S. Kanagaraj stood out with their all-court game, while M. Ukkira Pandian was a class act as he set up nicely for his teammates to blast past the defence of Uttarakhand.
With K.P. Shaheem and captain V. John Christopher also pulling their weight with a strong game, Tamil Nadu had little to worry as it dominated the proceedings.
Lalit Kumar, Rathish Nair, skipper S.A. Rahul and Guru Chand Singh played well for Uttarakhand, but the current internationals in the team, Mandeep Singh and Ranjit Singh, were not able to live up to their reputation.
In the women’s section, there were no surprises as defending champion Railways and runner-up Kerala set up a title clash without dropping a set in the semifinals against Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu respectively.
The results (semifinals):
Men: Tamil Nadu bt Uttarakhand 25-21, 25-14, 25-21; Kerala bt Haryana 25-18, 25-23, 20-25, 18-25, 15-10.
Women: Railways bt Andhra Pradesh 25-14, 25-16, 25-10; Kerala bt Tamil Nadu 25-21, 25-18, 25-22.
Keywords: National volleyball championship