The demure Tamil Nadu lad spoke in an exclusive interview.
We went into the tournament with a pretty young team. I think besides me the rest of my team members did not have much experience under their belt, but they put up their best efforts in Tehran. We beat Turkmenistan but lost to Australia and Qatar in the preliminary round and then beat Sri Lanka but lost to Bahrain in the classification round. There is always scope for improvement.
Q. At the age of 25, you captained the Indian senior men’s volleyball team for the first time. How was the experience?
It was exciting for me to lead the national team. I was nervous at times and thought our young team did well in Tehran. Captaining a team is an honour and I have learnt a lot from this stint.
Q. At the 2015 Asian Volleyball Championship in Tehran, India lost to Bahrain 2-3 in the classification round but exacted revenge beating by the same margin in the play-off round to take the 11th spot.
Both games against Bahrain went down to the wire. We lost a close five-setter in the classification round losing the final set 14-16, and again in the play-off round,we lost the first set, won the next two sets before they won the fourth. We held our nerves to bag the final set at 15-13. It was a battle of attrition against Bahrain in both games and we were glad that we could beat them when it mattered the most.
Q. You are known for your telling smashes. How would you sum up your own game?
Smashing is my forte and I keep looking at ways to improve in this area. Having said that, I’m constantly working on my blocking and setting skills as well.
Q. You were one of the key performers of India’s campaign in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, where India finished fifth.
The Asian Games was a good tournament not just for me but for the team as well. We were pitted in a tough Pool alongside Asia’s top side Iran. It was not as if we lost to them convincingly to them – of course, we lost in straight sets but we gave everything we had. We lost the first two sets 22-25, 22-25 and the third set 18-25. We again fought hard against another top side Japan in the quarterfinals, losing to them 2-3 after leading 2-1 at one juncture. We lost the decider 13-15. With a little bit of luck we could have made it to the medal round at the Asiad.
Q. Indian volleyball is on an upswing – have the team shown that they are a force to reckon with at least in Asia?
We are narrowing the gap with Asia’s top teams like Iran, Japan, Korea and China. I think in coming years we would start beating these teams, provided we keep working hard on our game.
Q. How would you rate India with world’s top sides like current world champions Poland, Brazil, Germany, France, Russia, USA and Canada?
Look, we have been competing well with Asia’s top sides and it shows as we are coming up in leaps and bounds. The more we play the world’s top teams the better we will get. I believe Indian volleyball is in good health and with a good bunch of young and experienced players we will be a formidable unit in the next two years.
Q. The Indian Volleyball League (IVL) was first held in 2011 and was slated to be held in October 2013 but was put off to February 2014 and was again postponed. Thoughts?
I have no idea about whether the IVL will be held this year or next year. If it happens it will be good for Indian volleyball.