Hyderabad Chargers remains in contention

Chennai Spikers, winner of the last two legs, stayed on course for the championship victory when it came up with a near-flawless display to down Kerala Killers 33-31, 25-19, 25-18 in the final leg of the inaugural Indian Volley League championship at Kotla Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy Indoor Stadium here on Thursday.

Late in the evening, Hyderabad Chargers came up with a brilliant display to down Yanam Tigers 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 25-19 to put itself into contention for the championship.

Earlier, Karnataka Bulls defeated Maratha Warriors 17-25, 25-20, 25-23, 29-27 to take its points tally to 28. For Warriors, it was the fourth straight defeat in this leg and it now has 25 points with one match on hand.

Chennai tops the table with 33 points with one match to go against Hyderabad Chargers, which has 32, on Friday, while Kerala Killers has 21 with a game against Maratha Warriors.

The Killers surprised Chennai outfit with a 5-1 quick lead as Naveen Raja Jacob's big smashes and the double block of K.P. Shameem and Jinson Varghese proved effective. But, the ever-reliable defence manned by K.J. Kapil Dev and Ranjit Singh brought Chennai back into the game with a wonderful display at the net.

As the game progressed, the few times Killers surged ahead, it was pulled back by the power-packed game from southpaw K. Ragesh, who once again showed a knack of scoring when the team badly needed them.

Then, to the chagrin of Killers camp, even Mandeep Singh, who till then confined himself to the role of a booster, came up with an attacking display with some amazing smashes down the centre.

Exciting stuff

Once the scores were tied 14-all, it was exciting stuff from both sides. There was very little to choose at that particular phase as for Chennai, Mandeep, Prabakaran and Navjit Singh scored consistently, while for the Killers G.R. Vaishnav was outstanding as central blocker, picking important points. That was the time when the scores were levelled 12 times before Mandeep changed gears to score crucial points and help Chennai clinch the first set.

The start was once again good for Kerala Killers in the second set, not letting Chennai run away with a big lead. But it could not sustain the pressure with the desired consistency as there were too many gaps in the defence and service errors too.

Change in strategy

On the other hand, Chennai Spikers elevated their game with a clever change in strategy — preferring the delectable drops to the big smashes which were often blocked by the duo of Naveen and Manu. This move clearly rattled Killers so much that it simply lost the rhythm. So precise were the drops from the Chennai Spikers, they made scoring look suddenly so simple.

The much-expected fight back in the third set never really came off from Kerala Killers whose hopes of bouncing back at 16-all were dashed by the solid display by V.K. Ansar and Kapil Dev at the net. They gave the freedom for Mandeep to come up with a series of powerful smashes to put the issue beyond doubt.

The results: Karnataka Bulls bt Maratha Warriors 17-25, 25-20, 25-23, 29-27; Chennai Spikers bt Kerala Killers 33-31, 25-19, 25-18; Hyderabad Chargers bt Yanam Tigers 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 25-19.

Friday's matches: Killers vs Warriors (1.00 p.m.); Bulls vs Tigers (3.30 p.m.); Chargers vs Spikers (5. 30 p.m.).