The Prime Volleyball League is back in action this February, and ESPN answers a few key questions around the young league:
Oh, welcome back PVL! What's new?
New season, new beginnings. First of all, with the specter of COVID-19 not engulfing our everyday lives (for now), there is no bio-bubble and no closed arena. The league is going to be travelling: from Bengaluru to Hyderabad to Kochi.
There's also the big news that a franchise from one more city, Mumbai, has joined the existing seven (Bengaluru, Kolkata, Calicut, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi). The addition of the Mumbai Meteors to its roster indicates the confidence investors have in the league, says CEO Joy Bhattacharjya. The crux of the model remains that the owners of the teams (including the new addition) are stakeholders in the league, along with promoters Baseline Ventures and thereby equally vested in the league's progress.
Considering that it is only a year old and they are still at loggerheads with what passes for the volleyball federation in India (more on that later), you'd say Bhattacharjya has a point.
Not too shabby. Anything else?
Oh, yes. The volleyball Club World Championship, run by the world body FIVB, will be hosted in India for the next two years. Which also means the winners of PVL 2023 and '24 will compete in the World Championships in those years.
Is the Club World Championship as big a deal as it sounds?
Pretty much. Here's why.
Wow. Ok, remind us, again, this is not the same as the Pro Volleyball League, right?
Nope. That one had been set up by the same promoters, but in association with the Volleyball Federation of India (one of the two warring factions that claim to run the sport in the country). It started in 2019, completed one season, and then the VFI pulled out mid-season the following year. A long legal battle ensued, and it was won by Baseline.
When the Prime Volleyball League was set up last year, the VFI announced a league of their own - which has still not materialised.
Of course. How has that affected the players, by the by?
There were worries that in this power-tussle, the players might suffer, but an example from the National Games proves that this might actually be resulting in a semblance of power coming back to the players: When top Kerala athletes (who had played in the PVL) were not selected to represent the state, by the state federation (which falls under the VFI) at the National Games in September, they went to court. And won.
They went on play for Kerala at the Games, and won gold. India's best: not just in theory or marketing hyperbole.
Oh! Ok, so what happened in the first season, last year?
The inaugural season was won by the Kolkata Thunderbolts, after they comprehensively beat the Ahmedabad Defenders 15-13, 15-10, 15-12 in the final at the Gachibowli indoor stadium in Hyderabad.
Ahmedabad had earlier topped the league stage ahead of Kolkata (by two points), with Calicut Heroes and Hyderabad Black Hawks the other two to make the top 4: and therefore the semifinals. The Kochi Blue Spikers finished bottom, after winning just one game of the six they played.
Vinit Kumar (Kolkata) won the Most Valuable Player of the Season, SV Guru Prasanth (Hyderabad), the Emerging Player of the Season, Angamuthu (Ahmedabad) the Best Spiker of the Season, John Joseph EJ (Hyderabad) the Best Blocker of the Season and Shon T John (Ahmedabad) the Fantasy Player of the Season.
Are there any players we should keep an eye on this time around?
Most franchises retained their key players, so the main protagonists remain the same. Ergo, the names mentioned above. New boys Mumbai were given the chance to pick any players not retained by the original franchises - attacking talent Anu James looks the pick of the bunch.
Of the non-retained bunch, attacker Rohit Kumar (INR 17.5 lakhs, Kochi), setter Ranjit Singh (INR 12.5 lakhs, Hyderabad) and attacker Chirag Yadav (INR 12.5 lakhs, Calicut) went for the highest figures amongst domestic players in the season 2 player auction.
So, when and where is it happening?
The league starts in Bengaluru on February 4 before moving to Hyderabad on February 15 and moving to the final leg in Kochi on February 24. The semifinals are slated for March 3 and 4, with the final on March 5.
There will be a total of 31 games this season. Most days will see one match (at 7 PM IST), with a few showcasing double headers (7 and 9.30 PM IST). The games will be broadcast on the Sony network (TV and OTT) and streamed worldwide by Volleyball World (the commercial wing of the FIVB).
Erm, now... how about a 'Volleyball 101'?
So you already know the basic rules:
Six players per team.
Points won when the ball hits the opponent's court or bounces out-of-bounds off an opponent.
Win a point, win the right to serve. (think badminton).
Each team allowed three touches from any body part (not including any blocks at the net) of the ball before it has to cross the net.
One player not allowed consecutive touches
Now where the PVL differs from regular international volleyball is in the points system. Where the regular matches are decided on best-of-five set, the first four of which go to 25 points (with at least a two point difference), all the sets in the PVL go to a maximum of 15 points. Teams are also given the chance to play a bonus card in each set - once that's played, they win two points instead of one; and also run the risk of losing two points instead of one.
The league believes this promotes fast, attacking volleyball but for seasoned viewers of the sport it can take some getting used to: especially the lack of the slow buildup that often ratchets up tension in the big international matches.