Foreign glitz descends on Indian volleyball but is floored by home-grown talent
The star overseas names in the PVL say the Indian league is a great opportunity for their careers. They also say the Indian players are in many ways more skilled than their global counterparts.
When the Prime Volleyball League (PVL) season gets underway on Saturday, one of the teams in the opening match promises to deliver something never seen before in Indian volleyball – a quicker pace of play that can draw crowds.
The Hyderabad Black Hawks, managed by Argentine Ruben Wolochin, the only foreign coach in the league, will take on Kochi Blue Spikers to get the season underway at 7 pm IST on February 5.
"Wolochin has introduced a fast pace of play. What we bring to the court will be something very new, something that can catch fans' attention. This will be our advantage this season. All the other teams will have an Indian style of play and they will need to prepare for our unique style," said Hyderabad captain Vipul Kumar.
But while Hyderabad are looking at their foreign influence to set them apart, many overseas players in the league are looking at the PVL as a step-up in their careers.
Noah Taitano, one of the two overseas players on Bengaluru Torpedoes' roster, said the league offers his own career a great chance.
"PVL is a great platform, and not just for Indian volleyball players. It's televised, the level of competition is high," he said. In something rare for volleyball in India, all matches of the PVL will be shown on the Sony Sports network.
Laying out the differences in playing styles between the USA and India, he added, "The style of play here includes more combinations. In the USA, it's more head-on, you hit from wherever your position is. You don't move around on the court so much as here. As far as training goes, in USA we start with basic drills and then move on to specific skills like blocking, then into gameplay. Here, we get into drills called Complex 1 and Complex 2. I'd never heard of those before!"
'Indians would thrive in foreign leagues'
India is currently ranked World No. 64, positioned at the 10th place in Asia. They have never qualified for the Olympics.
But both Wolochin, the league's only foreign coach, and Taitano, one of 14 overseas players in the league, agree on one thing. They have both been floored by the natural talent in India and they say there are many players from the country who can thrive in foreign leagues if only they get the opportunity.
"Wolochin hasn't spoken to anyone personally, but what he does tell the team is that there are many players playing around the world with much less skill and technique than the Indian players here, but they just get better opportunities," said Vipul.
Having coached teams across Europe (Hungary, Germany, Finland, Denmark, and Spain) and South America for 30 years, Wolochin would know.
Taitano agreed that the skills of some of the Indian players have taken him aback.
"All these players would thrive abroad. There is a player called Ganesh in our team, he jumps so high and hits the ball so hard, it's incredible what he does given his lack of height," he said.