Normally not a site of much pomp, the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here exudes a festive air on the eve of the inaugural Indian Volley League (IVL) season. A giant arch greets visitors at the entrance while enormous banners hang from the roof inside the indoor stadium.
For five days at each centre, Bangalore, Chennai, Yanam and Hyderabad will witness some of the country's leading players turn out for six region-based franchises.
The teams, which began arriving in the city on Thursday, have had practice sessions in 30-minute slots at the venue. Players of varying abilities and ages from across the country were chosen and distributed equally among the sides by a panel of selectors to ensure fair competition.
Although it is felt that Hyderabad Chargers and Maratha Warriors, with more current senior Indian internationals than the others, start with a slight advantage, the coach of Chargers disagrees.
“This is a new experience for everybody,” said M.H. Kumara, also a coach at the Sports Authority of India here. “Teams have to play 20 games at a stretch, so you have to look at the bench strength also. There is plenty to learn for everyone, including the coaches.”
In an immediate test of that bench strength, Hyderabad is likely to miss the services of captain M. Ukkarapandian who, along with Sube Singh and Gurinder Singh, forms the core of the team. “He aggravated an ankle injury he had suffered a month ago,” said Kumara. “But, we have a good replacement setter in Kasi [Viswanadha Raju].”
Om Parkash, coach of Karnataka Bulls, also felt that the teams were evenly matched. “There are inadequacies across the board,” he said. “Someone has a good attacker, someone a setter, someone a blocker; no team is complete that way. They are all equal.”
The IVL will commence on Sunday with Kerala Killers facing Maratha Warriors and three matches are scheduled for each day.
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K. Nandakumar, Organising Secretary, expects a turn-out of 12,000 to 15,000 over the five days. All matches will be telecast live on Doordarshan. The response to the Bangalore leg will be an indication of the popularity of the IVL.
“This is the greatest thing to have happened to Indian volleyball,” said Kumara. “Its success is crucial.”
Keywords: Indian Volley League