Uttarakhand hampered by mainstay Mandeep’s poor form

Host Kerala stormed into the Federation Cup volleyball’s men’s final crushing Uttarakhand 25-18, 25-12, 25-22 in the first semifinal at the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium, Pramadom, on Saturday.

With much at stake it was only natural for both teams to be tentative at the start. The ploy employed by both was to hold their rival on a tight leash before working for a breakthrough. Consequently the lead also changed freely in the initial stages of the first set before Kerala grew in confidence and pushed the accelerator.

This forward movement of the home side was dictated by at least two factors.

The first was an improved display in the defence especially in the backcourt. Libero Kiran Philip was simply outstanding in picking up the rebounds and stopping the thunderous smashes that emanated from the other end. 

The superb show of Kiran Philip was helpful in lifting the overall game of the home side and with K.S. Ratheesh and skipper Vibin M. George too getting into the act, the supremacy of the crowd favourite was complete.

The second factor was the effectiveness with which it often stopped the rival attack with blocks. Ajesh and Rohit stood out in the company of the peerless Tom Joseph, who again was a source of strength with his superb finishes, taking care of the moves initiated by playmaker Vimal T. Jacob.

Uttarakhand after the early flourish could hardly keep pace with Kerala. Much of this was due to the poor form shown by Mandeep Singh, its mainstay through all its previous matches.

The 32-year-old’s inspiring display was what had helped the side push Tamil Nadu to five sets late on Friday night. Perhaps that came in the way of a repeat show from Mandeep owing to lack of time for recovery.

Mandeep’s lack of form also seemed to have an impact on the performances of Guru Chand Singh and libero Vinod Negi.

The home team having surged ahead after the scores were tied 14-all took the first set for the loss of a further four points.

The second set was a mere formality as the home team, now in full flow, was hardly challenged. Uttarakhand tried its best to stretch the encounter by putting up a better display but Kerala hardly gave its rival any room before completing the rout in an hour and 17 minutes.

Earlier, Tamil Nadu posted its second win in three matches as it easily pushed back the challenge of Himachal Pradesh 25-13, 25-10,25-15 in the four-team women’s round-robin league.

The results: Men (semifinals): Kerala bt Uttarakhand 25-18, 25-12, 25-22.

Women (round-robin league): Tamil Nadu bt Himachal Pradesh 25-13, 25-10, 25-15.