SPORT

Punjab Police's finest hour

The Punjab Police and Southern Railway (right) teams that won the men and women's titles respectively in the National Super League volleyball championships at Renukoot on Sunday. — Photos: Rajeev Bhatt

The Punjab Police and Southern Railway (right) teams that won the men and women's titles respectively in the National Super League volleyball championships at Renukoot on Sunday. — Photos: Rajeev Bhatt  

Renukoot March 30 . It was Punjab Police's finest hour when it reached the top with stunning ease. In its crucial last match against Oil and Natural Gas Commission, Dehradun, it combined smoothly to wrap up the tie at 25-22, 25-19, 26-24 and took the title. It was also time for retribution when it avenged its loss to Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai, in the Nagercoil leg, with a 25-16, 25-22, 25-21 in a late match on Saturday.

Having won all its matches Punjab Police had no challenger for the men's title and walked away with the top honours and Rs. 40,000 as prize money in the National Super League volleyball championship at the Hindalco football ground here on Sunday.

The holiday crowd came to cheer the ONGC, but it thoroughly disappointed falling apart in the beginning itself. In 1998 Punjab Police did not lose a single tournament in the country and was at its best. After that its performance dipped, but this time it was determined to make a dent even after losing the five-setter to IOB in Nagercoil.

The most admirable part of Punjab Police is that it is always focused and the team rises to the occasion with its solid defence. It did just that today by blocking out ONGC. Subba Rao was unstoppable, but the Policemen managed to shut out the others.

Abhijit Bhattacharjee, Avinish Kumar Yadav and Mithlesh Kumar ran into solid double block. Ratanlal was right on the spot and was roaring whenever he shut them out. Pritipal Singh, Gurwinder Singh and setter Suraj Prakash put up a net defence that crippled the ONGC attack from the beginning. The Dehradun side could not wriggle out and sank. In every set, Punjab Police was scoring seven or eight points through block and that gave it considerable lead, particularly in the later part of the first and second sets.

However, in the third set, ONGC, backed by the crowd, tried to stage a comeback. It was surging ahead with a two-point lead with better block because of Subba Rao, Rahul, Abhijit and Mithlesh. But Punjab Police managed to catch up at the right time to shut out the rival in straight sets. Barring a few smashes and finish at the net there was nothing much from ONGC. Perhaps its setter Suresh Godhara lacked variety to give more teeth to ONGC attack. This is important against teams like Punjab Police because of its sustained block.

Kochi Refineries finished runner-up. ONGC came third and IOB fourth.

Southern Railway, Chennai, had limited resources, but still the team managed to wrest the women's title. In the last match of the four-team round robin it comfortably beat Central Railway, Mumbai, at 25-11, 25-13, 25-21 and maintained a clean slate with three wins. Incidentally, it won all the ties in straight sets, including the defending champion and archrival South Central Railway, Secunderabad.

Having crossed the major hurdle SCR the other day, Southern Railway was confident of getting past Central, which suffered a serious setback because of the serious injury to its main setter Vaishali. The Mumbai team entered the court without Vaishali. That itself was bad as she is the most experienced star in the team. In fact, she is also the main setter for Indian Railway, which has been dominating for nearly two decades now.

If that was a big handicap for Central, spiker Radhika's erratic attack further eroded its game in the first two sets. Radhika was throwing away points. She was either hitting into the net or outside. The other spiker Hemalatha tried to set the ball and there was confusion.

That made SR's task easy. It surged ahead in the first two sets without being challenged. There was not even strong net defence. Geeta Raju, Vini Thomas, blocker Shiji Kurian, and Gayathri maintained their spiking steadily right through the championship. They hardly came under pressure. But even under pressure they managed to stabilise the game as they did in the third set.

The crowd that became impatient because Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai, lost its match against Kochi Refineries tamely at 25-15, 25-15, 25-21, started booing the Central Railway players. Responding to that the Mumbai team improved its game. Radhika found her touch and rattled the SR defence. Hemalath also joined the attack. Rogy and Kalandhi added further strength to the attack.

Southern Railway, which was leading 10-3 in the third set, found the going tough and was tied at 13. The crowd cheered the Central players to fight and the Chennai outfit was under pressure for the first time in the match. However, Gayathri and Geeta Raju kept their cool and spiked with good control despite bad first pass.

Setter Sunitha ran around to set and the team managed to take a two-point lead, despite strong cross wind and dusty conditions. Vini Thomas provided the final punch to floor Central with her steady spiking in the final stages. She hit her crosscourt shots superbly, despite Central's strong block. It was only in this set that Central was ahead.

In the first two sets Southern Railway maintained six or seven point lead comfortably through steady spiking by Geeta, Gayathri and Vini. Last year, Southern Railway had its full team with seniors and lost. But this time it did not have its full strength, but libero Hemamalini did well in the backcourt retrieving the shots and service neatly. And that gave a fillip to Southern Railway's strong attack.

SCR finished second with two wins. KSEB, with one win, came third and winless Central fourth.

Earlier, IOB went down meekly to Kochi Refineries, but the playing conditions were pretty bad. The match was billed in the morning, but they decided to play at 4 p.m. As the heat wave has already begun it was bad time for any game outdoors.

There was no resistance from IOB. It played as if it was going through the motions to complete its fixtures. Kochi Refineries, which crushed ONGC the other day, was always ahead with Tom Joseph, Kishore, Rajeev, Jayaprakash and Ismail spiking steadily.

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