IVL set to kick off in style

First-leg hosts Karnataka Bulls take on Yanam Tigers in opener

A select few went as far as saying the tournament might not last beyond its inaugural edition but there was unanimity in considering the event a boon for the sport in India. The dream of conducting a volleyball league, based on cricket’s highly successful short-format version -- the Indian Premier League -- has been in the pipeline for a couple of years and it has finally materialised into a round-robin-league tournament which kick starts here on Sunday.

The league had run into rough weather well before it could take off with several issues ranging from sponsors to stadium availability cropping up. But the organisers across the four venues -- Bangalore (May 29-June 2), Chennai (June 4-8), Yanam (June 12-16) and Hyderabad (20-24) -- stuck it through.

“This has been a dream come true for us,” said IVL secretary and Volleyball Federation of India joint secretary K Nandakumar.  “We have worked really hard to make this happen. We will try and rope in more sponsors in the future and also bring in the auction system.

Since this is the inaugural edition, bringing in foreign players was not possible but from next year onwards we will work something out.” Of the six teams, Karnataka Bulls will be among the favourites to clinch the crown in the first leg, and will be keen to go all the way despite the presence of some really strong opposition.

The other teams are Chennai Spikers, Hyderabad Chargers, Kerala Killers, Maratha Warriors and the Yanam Tigers. All the teams have their fair share of stars and stalwarts to give the Bulls a run for their money.

The Bulls, who like the other teams were put together by a three-man selection panel comprising A Ramana Rao, GE Sridharan and Shyam Sundar Rao, have a whole lot to bank on to make a mark in the tournament but their biggest asset and the tournament’s ‘icon’ will be Sanjay Kumar. The Indian senior team universal, who competes in the Iranian league, will spur the young and squad with his role as a premier spiker, with support from Karnataka’s TD Ravikumar, Imtiyaz Ahmed and Anup D’ Costa.

The Spikers will rely mainly on former India international J Nadarajan (spiker) while Hyderabad will pivot their charge around the experience of Lalit Kumar. The KA Nazer-coached Killers will hope for their impressive all-round game to take them through while the Maratha Warriors need to work on their stability on the front court to become a force to reckon with.

The Tigers have a relatively young side which seems pretty well-rounded with universal Tom Joseph leading the way.  The Bulls, who take on the Tigers in the second match of the day after the Killers and Maratha Warriors fight it out in the opener, looked sturdy for most part in their practice sessions but seemed to lack a strong blocker and that could be a drawback.

The state at which the venue was in as of Saturday was disturbing to say the least but with a horde of fine players and an excited fraternity, the IVL is bound to offer a thrilling ride.

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