KOLKATA: In a wonderful exhibition of attacking play, India tamed Australia 3-1 to top Group A of the second Commonwealth volleyball championship at the Netaji Indoor Stadium here on Thursday.
In an exciting match that lasted an hour and 36 minutes, the two combatants dished out some fantastic rallies and superb combination play to enthral a goodly gathering. India won 19-25, 25-21, 25-23 and 27-25.
“India was far more consistent and had a very good match”, conceded the Aussie coach Russell Borgeaud. “In such a contest, the difference between two teams would be one or two per cent.”
A beaming India coach, G.E. Sridharan, praised his boys for putting up a tremendous display.
“We beat Australia first time in many years. The boys played well. The team’s blocking worked and the attack was good,” he said.
The Aussies began in a whirlwind fashion by spiking from all angles to send the Indian defence in disarray.
With Matthew Young setting up some superb balls, Igor Yudin, Paul Carroll and David Ferguson came up with some tremendous smashes.
South-paw Carroll was unstoppable as a universal. His angular spiking was too much for the Indians to handle.
Australia, which enjoyed an early lead, maintained it throughout the first set. The only time India came close was at 8-9 but the Aussies pulled away to 17-12 and 21-15 to win the set in 20 minutes.
Change in approach
The second set saw a complete change in the Indians’ approach. Gone was the tentativeness and the team stood up to the challenge.
Experienced K.J. Kapil Dev began to move the attack with good settings and Sanjay Kumar, who was literally starving in the universal position in the earlier set, came into the picture and invariably put away his smashes.
India’s reception improved with libero R. Sivarajan taking the bulk of the credit. He was an inspiration in the Indian backline in all the sets India won. Sube Singh and P.S. Srikanth put up some fine blocking.
The Aussies kept up the pressure throughout the second game but, as the coaches said, the Indian team’s consistency carried the day.
Benjamin Hardy was the best scorer for Australia. He was outstanding in the defence and his spiking brooked no response from the Indians. Had Carroll and Yudin supported their captain, the script of the match would have been different.
After an equal battle till 18-all in the second set, the Indians pulled ahead playing all the crucial points well. They hardly put a foot wrong and took the set in 24 minutes.
The third set also followed the same pattern till 19-19. It was anybody’s game and when Sube Singh served into the net it looked like a lost battle for India. But it was not to be so. From 21-21, India again nosed ahead to 23-21.
When Srikanth’s angular smash went out to make the score 23-23, it looked as if India would lose the set. But Carroll’s effort was blocked and Srikanth took the set with a perfectly placed smash.
India maintained the lead throughout the third set to win it in 26 minutes.
Australia raced to an 11-6 lead in the fourth set. But India did not give up and clawed back to regain a lot of ground. From 16-19, India made it to 20-20 and again 25-all.
A Srikanth smash was touched out to give the vital lead and Sanjay killed a high ball to trigger off an Indian celebration in the stands.
The win gave India the top position and a meeting with South Africa in the semifinals. Australia will take on Pakistan in the other semifinal.
Sri Lanka, Canada, Bangladesh and New Zealand will play for the minor placings.
The results: Group A: India bt Australia 3-1 (19-25, 25-21, 25-23, 27-25); Sri Lanka bt Nigeria 3-2 (25-15, 21-25, 25-17, 19-25, 15-13).
Group B: Canada bt New Zealand 3-0 (25-10, 25-15, 25-16).