Experienced setter Mohan Ukkrapandian backs India to reach semifinals at Hangzhou Asian Games

M SudharshanM Sudharshan

September 14 2023
Mohan Ukkrapandian

This will be his fourth appearance in the Continental event.

Mohan Ukkrapandian has been a long-serving player in the Indian Volleyball setup. The 37-year-old setter from Tamil Nadu will be spearheading the 12-member Indian men’s contingent at the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games 2023. He played a major role in 2014 Asian Games where India finished fifth, which remains India’s best-ever performance in the past two decades.

Volleyball is a hugely celebrated sport down south in India where it garners large audience even for local tournaments. Hailing from Tamil Nadu, Ukkrapandian who is in his final stages of career hopes to make a mark at the upcoming Asiad.

“This will most probably be my last Asian Games and I feel honored to have been part of the Continental Games squad for four editions,” said Ukkrapandian in an exclusive chat with Khel Now. “To be honest I did not expect to be part of the team this time, but I have managed to get back.

“I personally believe a setter needs to have more experience compared to other positions as we can change the dimension of the game and the experience I possess will definitely help the team.”

Recent performances

Indian Men's Volleyball Team
India finished 11th in the Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship 2023 (Courtesy: FB/VolleyLiveIndia)

However, with respect to the recent performances, the Indian men’s volleyball team has not been in good form having finished 11th in the recently concluded Asian men’s Volleyball Championship 2023. Although there have been a few changes to the squad for the Asian Games, the core team remains the same.

Ukkrapandian, who was initially selected for the Asian Championship, was injured ten days prior to the competition.

India started their campaign with a loss against Qatar but managed to win the final group stage match against Afghanistan. This helped the blue colts reach the pre-quarterfinals where they lost (2-3) to neighbors China in a closely fought contest. “There wasn’t sufficient time for us prepare for the Asian Championships. We initially started the preparations for Asian Games but then the Asian Championship got sneaked in.

“Due to various internal problems, we weren’t sure as to whether the team will be participating in the Asian Championships. There wasn’t much awareness as to whether we will participate and as I mentioned earlier, we were preparing completely only for the Asian Games.

But the performance on the whole wasn’t bad either as we put up a decent fight. Had we won against China then we would have been in the top eight and could have progressed further as well.”

Apart from Mohan Ukkrapandian, the team has boosted its squad for the Asiad with the additions of Guru Prasanth – highest scorer in the recently concluded Prime Volleyball League and Santhosh – finished sixth in scorers’ chart at the World University Games.

“Since I had an injury, I couldn’t participate in the Asian Championships. Santhosh, on the other hand, was in the camp for the World University Games and the reason for Guru Prasanth’s non-participation is unknown to me,” Ukkrapandian added.

India has won a total of three medals at the Asian Games (1 Silver and 2 Bronze). Their latest success came in the 1986 edition in Seoul where India achieved a bronze medal finish. However, since then India have always finished outside the top five. However, the nation showed good signs in the 2014 edition by finishing fifth which is their best finish in the past two decades.

“The 2014 edition was India’s best in terms of finish in the past decade or so. The problem in the 2018 edition was that only few players from 2014 — say two or three were part of the squad in 2018. Rest of the players were making their debut at a major event. I was the most experienced player in the previous edition and with the team being relatively new there wasn’t much coordination, and on hindsight, we faced too many difficulties,” recalled Ukkrapandian.

“The same isn’t the case now as the players have got good quality league to play in. This time we have an idea as to how prepared we are with respect to other countries and know which areas to develop which wasn’t the case before.”

Development of sport in India

Prime Volleyball League (PVL) has been a major valuable addition for the sport in India. Several players have got an opportunity to showcase their talent in front of large audience and have also become financially stable. More than just money, the exposure the PVL provides is tremendous as the players get to share the dressing room with experienced foreign players.

Mohan Ukkrapandian was part of Calicut Heroes in PVL 2 (Courtesy: mohunukkrapandian/instagram)

“The advent of Prime Volleyball League has seen significant changes to the Volleyball ecosystem in India. The game is moving to the next level in terms of professionalism which is a huge plus. Let’s take the example of Cricket. After the introduction of IPL, the sport has seen several young players evolve and put India in a position where they can field two competitive squads simultaneously for international meets. Similarly, we can see visible growth even in Volleyball if the PVL take place frequently.

“A few years back there wasn’t any platform for the players to showcase their talent, which isn’t the case anymore. Also, with the foreign players taking part it is an added bonus. In India after a certain age people start commenting about the players retirement even if they have got something left in them.

“The same could be said of me as well since I am in the final stages of my career. But when I see the foreign players performing so well in the late 30s, then there arises a question as to why can’t I do the same.

“If I remain fit, then I can easily play for a longer time. I have a good game presence. So, the only thing I have to look after is my fitness. Looking at the foreign players, I have developed a belief in myself and this another way the PVL has helped many understand certain nuances.

“With respect to the Asian Games, I feel we have a realistic chance of progressing to the semifinals. Certainly it all depends on how we perform in that particular day but with the teams practise for the last two to three months there are hopes of us performing well this time.”

Influence of Dakshinamoorthy and GE Sridharan on Mohan Ukkrapandian

Dakshinamoorthy, who was coach of the Indian team at the recently concluded University Games, has produced several players for the national side. Close to half of the players in the current Indian squad are his former students. On the other hand, GE Sridharan, a Dronacharya awardee, has been a coach of the Indian team for quite a few decades. Both coaches garner huge respect in the Indian Volleyball ecosystem given the dedication they have shown.

Mohan Ukkrapandian started his career as a middle blocker but converted to a setter upon the recommendations from Dakshinamoorthy. The move paid of pretty well for Mohan as he is now regarded as one of the best setters India has produced.

“Dakshinamoorthy sir played an important role in shaping my career in my initial days. When I got selected for the Indian camp, it was GE Sridharan sir who guided me. I am in constant touch with both the coaches and whenever I feel low and have any doubt with respect to the game then I refer to them for guidance.”

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