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`We are capable of beating any team in Asia'

Rayan Rozario

COIMBATORE: A small cut on his forehead does not hurt him as much as his boys' failure to qualify for the world championship. "This is just a small fall and will heal in no time, but the pain of having not qualified is what hurts me most. It's going to take some time to get rid of those scars because our boys had worked pretty hard for it," says senior India volleyball coach and Arjuna awardee G.E. Sridharan.

In an informal chat with The Hindu, Sridharan says it is not the end of the road. "This is not the first time that this is happening. We have been knocking the door for several years. It is just that we are losing out on close matches We will try wiping out bitter memories by doing one better in the Asian senior championship in Thailand in September and the Asian Games in Doha next year."

The last time that India won a medal at the Asian Games was in Seoul in 1986. Sridharan, then the team's main setter, affirms that it is a mission possible. "There is a good scope as we are capable of beating any team in Asia. Our players are good, if not better, than any others in the world." He justified his statement saying that in the past the team used to lose to Korea, Japan and China rather quickly. "That's not the case now. We have made them sweat for every win."

However, he points out that the boys need to get more of match experience. "I don't want to blame anybody for it. The Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) has tried every possible route to send the team."

The coach says that prior to the Asian Games the team needs to play at least 50 matches abroad. "We will have to play as many matches against the Latin Americans, the Europeans and the Central Americans if we need to win a medal at the Games."

Is it possible? "Why not," queries Sridharan, who helped the youth team to the silver medal in the world championship a couple of years ago in Thailand.

He says the performance of the boys at the qualifiers in Chennai has already been taken note of. The VFI has also understood that it's the match experience that can work wonders."

Sridharan avers that if China and Australia did well at the world qualifiers it was because the teams had come well prepared playing about 15 matches in the United States. "We don't know how many more matches they had played before coming to Chennai. Likewise, our boys also require that many matches before any international tournament."

He says playing the Europeans, the Latin Americans in speed and height and the Central Americans in attacking skills and the Asians in quick combination attack, will only help the team in sharpening the skills. The Indians were found wanting in jump services and reception at the qualifiers in Chennai. Has the coach planned to do something about it?

"We worked seriously in every department of the game, but only after the qualifiers did we realise that it was not enough. So, we have decided to put our heads together and correct the same," he says and adds "there's no substitute for match play."

Sridharan assures that with continued support from VFI and the State Government the team will only go places from here. "We would have lost the qualifiers, but take my word the time has come for us to prove that we are the best in Asia."

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