The time may be up for many seniors in the national volleyball team.
After a fine performance in the Junior Worlds in Turkey last August, many of the under-21 players who figured in that side are now knocking on the senior India doors.
'The juniors are pushing hard, now it’s very difficult for seniors,' said National coach G.E. Sridharan in a chat with The Hindu on the sidelines of the Federation Cup here.
'Because the juniors, especially last year’s bunch, are very good. They performed well at the under-21 Worlds and at the Senior Nationals too.'
The juniors, coached by former international T.C. Jothish, finished eighth in the under-21 Worlds at Ankara.
'Now, we are going to call 36 for the senior camp, out of that around 25 are juniors or just out of that age group. We have left out many seniors,' revealed the former international.
Chattisgarh’s Deepesh Kumar Sinha, who got the best blocker award in the 2012 Junior Asians in Iran where India finished fourth, Tamil Nadu blockers G.S. Akhin, Jerome Vinith and setter Marshad Suhail are some of the players who have impressed Sridharan, who heads the Volleyball Federation of India’s panel of chief coaches.
Incidentally, Tamil Nadu won the Senior Nationals in Moradabad in December.
For the seniors, the pressure is intense especially in the blocking department.
'We have called nine blockers for the camp (which begins on April 7 in Bhopal), out of which only one or two are seniors, all others are fresh faces,' said the Arjuna and Dronacharya awardee.
And left out are some big names.
'Sube Singh and centre blocker Pradeep have been left out, also Sanjay who didn’t take part in the Nationals. And in the same category, we have brought in some youngsters like the Kerala-born Akhin who performed very well in the Nationals.'
While there are plenty of fresh faces in Indian volleyball, there are also many who come to national camps weary and on heavy legs.
In fact, there is a feeling that the packed domestic circuit is letting down the Indian team.
Players play around eight all-India tournaments in three months and then there is the Karnataka League too.
'So, when they come to the national camp, they are almost dead, they cannot even stand. It brings down the performance of India,' revealed the 60-year-old.
But can’t the federation restrict the number of matches a national player plays every season, like the AIFF tried in football?
'That’s difficult, players need money very badly. If they play some ten tournaments, they will make something like Rs. 2 lakh.'
With the Asian Games coming up in Korea in September, this is a crucial year for volleyball.
'I want to win a medal at the Asian Games, that’s for the survival of volleyball,' said Sridharan who was a setter in the Indian team that won volleyball’s last Asiad medal, a bronze in 1986 in Seoul. That side included the great Jimmy George.
Volleyball had missed a couple of Asian Games in the past as the officials had felt that the sport was not up to the mark. And with questions being asked, in certain quarters, about the huge expenses for team sports which fetch just one medal, Sridharan’s fears may not exactly be misplaced.
Sridharan’s first big test will come at the Asia Cup in Kazakhstan in August, an event for the top eight teams of Asia. India finished seventh in the last Asian Championship in October in Dubai.