Customs are here to stay

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When Chennai Customs went on a recruitment spree to rebuild their volleyball team in 2009, not many pundits in the city believed that the revolution was real.

The doubters weren’t totally wrong because there was uncertainty over the long-term ambitions of Customs, who lacked the tradition of some of the big names in running a volleyball team. Now the time is right to take stock, as three years have gone by.

Customs’ efforts to assemble a crack team gained strength after they lured P.S. Srikanth and G. Pradeep away from South Central Railway. A. Vikram and P. Sivabalan, formerly of IOB, brought their experience on board.

Soon, Punjab setter Balwinder Singh added his name to the mix. The recruitment of youthful John Christopher, J. Thennarasan and K.P. Shaheem made Customs every team’s envy in Tamil Nadu.

The initial euphoria didn’t last long as Customs failed to loosen IOB’s grip on state volleyball. Barring a win at a private event in the city, Customs couldn’t put it across the bank team in a major event like the state championship or the Chennai district super division.

Hamstrung by fitness problems, Srikanth and Shaheem haven’t been able to give their best for Customs. The decision of Pradeep and Balwinder to join Income Tax last year didn’t help the team’s cause either.

When all seemed lost, Customs dug deep into their reserve of resilience to come out firing in the 2011 national club volleyball championship (NCVC). Fighting heavy odds, they reached the semifinals, accounting for BPCL on the way.

Coach S. Irudhayarajan, who is handling the team along with T.S. Asokan, said Customs’ fine performance at the NCVC has earned them respect across the country. “Finishing fourth in the premier inter-club tournament was a big achievement for us.

As a result, we are getting invitation for many all-India tournaments. We are certainly a prominent team in the country now,” he told DC, from Mangalore, where his team were playing at a national level event.

Irudhayarajan said the departure of Pradeep and Balwinder didn’t affect Customs. “We did so well at the NCVC without them. Later, we beat Income Tax at the inter-revenue sub-zonal meet in Chennai. The other players in the team realised their responsibilities and delivered,” he added.

Customs recently won the all-India inter-revenue title for the third year in succession. Then they finished second behind BPCL — after beating ONGC in a memorable league match — in a tournament conducted at Bargur.

In John Christopher, Customs have one of the finest attackers in the country. Up and coming Yuvraj is also improving with each tournament. It is in blocking where Customs need a cutting edge.

“In addition to filling up the vacancies created by the resignation of Pradeep and Balwinder, we are also planning to recruit one more youngster. Our focus is on blockers. We will be fighting for titles after the reinforcements,” Irudhayarajan said.

The coach credited the team’s resurgence to deputy commissioner M. Tamizh Vendan’s involvement. “His passion for the game rubs off on others,” the coach said.

Customs need a headline-grabbing performance in Tamil Nadu to prove their credentials.

Irudhayarajan said winning the state championship and the Chennai district ‘A’ division league has been his team’s dream. “We know the importance of the two events, so we will work harder than ever towards our collective objective,” he added.

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