Can Railways stop the Tamil Nadu juggernaut in the men's semifinals of the Velammal silver jubilee 59th senior National volleyball championship?
With star setter Kapil Dev performing at his best and given the ominous form of its attackers Prabagaran, Baiju Nair and universal Sudarshan Varma, Railways look well equipped to handle Tamil Nadu's challenge at the Nehru Indoor Stadium here on Saturday.
The 14-25, 25-23, 25-14, 25-21 victory over Services in the quarterfinals on Friday suggested that Railways would at least make it difficult for the defending champion, which overcame Karnataka 25-20, 25-22, 25-20 in its last eight clash.
Services started off on a blazing note, taking a 15-7 lead in the first set. Universal Shijas Mohammed, who had been pretty average till now, was bang on target and his smashes pierced through the Railways block on numerous occasions.
After the first set which Services clinched conceding just 14 points, it was widely believed that the team had finally found a way to win. It turned out to be a false dawn, though.
Railways quickly woke up from its self-imposed slumber. Once Kapil took charge, everything fell in place. Prabagaran and Kapil were allies in Railways' resurrection. Baiju and Sudarshan upped the momentum and hardly made any mistakes with their finish.
T.C. Jothish, Railways' chief coach, said he was satisfied with his team's performance but unhappy with the first pass. “We should raise our level against Tamil Nadu, and I think we can,” he said.
What wrong can Tamil Nadu do? So far, it has done everything a champion team is expected to. In its match against Karnataka, the only concern was the way it slowed down towards the end in all the three sets, allowing the opponent some leeway to come back into the match.
There was perceptible improvement in Pradeep's block while John Christopher and Naveen Raja Jacob made things happen. Universal Selvaprabhu was simply outstanding. So was Ukkrapandian, who is showing signs of developing as a top-class setter.
Karnataka suffered due to the poor form of its universal Anup Costa.
Anup was either blocked efficiently by Shelton Moses and John Christopher or was erratic.
Tamil Nadu's chief coach G.E. Sridharan said the team still needed to do a little ‘extra'. “You can't allow your opponent to come back into the match after taking a sizeable lead. Against tougher opponents, it could be difficult,” he said.
Ukkrapandian has the capacity to improve further, said the coach.
Last edition's finalist Uttarakhand set up a clash with Kerala in the semifinals, defeating Punjab 25-18, 25-19, 25-20.
Earlier in the evening, Kerala proved too strong for Haryana while scripting a 25-19, 25-20, 25-15 win.
Skipper Tom Joseph showed the way with his well-angled smashes while Azeez blocked and attacked with purpose.
In the women's semifinals, Railways will meet West Bengal while Kerala will clash with Karnataka.
The results (quarterfinals):
Men: Railways bt Services 14-25, 25-23, 25-14, 25-21.
Tamil Nadu bt Karnataka 25-20, 25-22, 25-20.
Kerala bt Haryana 25-19, 25-20, 25-15.
Uttarakhand bt Punjab 25-18, 25-19, 25-20.
Women: Railways bt HP 25-18, 25-14, 25-19;.
West Bengal bt Tamil Nadu 25-19, 25-14, 25-20.
Karnataka bt AP 25-20, 21-25, 23-25, 25-18, 15-7.
Kerala bt UP 25-15, 25-22, 25-16.
Keywords: senior National volleyball championship