Kerala stage spirited rally

Volleyball Senior Nationals : Hafeel-led side to face red-hot Railways in summit clash today

Kerala stage spirited rally

A determined Kerala men’s team will face the red-hot Indian Railways in the final of the 64th Senior National Volleyball Championship here at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium on Sunday.

In the semifinals on Saturday, holders Railways continued their inspired run to get past the competent Tamil Nadu 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 while Kerala staged a stunning comeback to prevail over Punjab 19-25, 23-25, 28-26, 25-18, 15-13.

The women’s title clash will be a repeat of last year’s final, as defending champions Indian Railways will take on the formidable Kerala team. Railways cruised to 25-9, 25-20, 25-13 victory over West Bengal in the first semifinal while Kerala hardly broke a sweat in dismissing Tamil Nadu 25-9, 25-17, 25-22 in the other last four clash.

In the men’s section, Kerala played their third straight five-setter, following their two marathon encounters against Punjab in the league stage and Uttarakhand in the quarterfinals. In fact, they had lost their league stage encounter to Punjab.

It wasn’t an encouraging start for Kerala with their attacker Ragesh KG having a woeful time. Kerala’s first pass too wasn’t impressive as Punjab clinched the first set with ease. Skipper Gurinder Singh was in a menacing mood for Punjab, sending in booming smashes to lift his side’s confidence.

Kerala bettered their game in the second set but at a crucial stage, with the score reading 22-20 in favour of them, blocker Akhin GS produced a faulty serve and star attacker Jerome Vinith sent in a smash way outside the court to help Punjab come level. Punjab then kept up their aggression to take the second.

Not allowing Punjab’s dominance to sustain, Kerala were more disciplined and reduced their unforced errors to come on board. Substitute Ratheesh KG led Kerala’s attack and Vinith was back at his best in the fourth as Kerala drew level 2-2 to take the game to the decider. Vinith once again sparkled in the fifth set to give his side a place in the final.

Kerala was dealt a blow when Akhin suffered an ankle injury following a collision with Ragesh. Coach Abdul Nazer confirmed that the blocker will miss the final.

In the second men’s semifinal, tempers flared as Tamil Nadu showed their disappointment towards a couple of decisions from the referee.

Tamil Nadu’s coach P Sundaram was given a yellow card for coming on to the court to protest a decision in the second set. Railways’ charge was led by Kapil Dev and skipper S Prabhagaran. Kapil though received a yellow card for constant arguing against referee’s decisions. Throughout the encounter, Railways looked a better team. Attacker Naveen Raja Jacob had an-off day while their defence too remained ordinary as Tamil Nadu ended up on the losing side.

Results: Semifinals: Men: Kerala bt Punjab 3-2 (19-25, 23-25, 28-26, 25-18, 15-13); Indian Railways bt Tamil Nadu 3-0 (25-23, 25-23, 25-18).

Women: Indian Railways bt West Bengal 3-0 (25-09, 25-20, 25-13); Kerala bt Tamil Nadu 3-0 (25-09, 25-17, 25-22).

Finals: On Sunday: Men: Indian Railways vs Kerala. Women: Indian Railways vs Kerala.
Third-fourth: Men: Tamil Nadu vs Punjab. Women: West Bengal vs Tamil Nadu.

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