Chennai: The setter isn't only the most important player in a volleyball team; he is also a bit of a punching bag when the results go wrong. Even though he hardly becomes the centre of attention at an hour of victory, he is sure to attract criticism in the aftermath of a defeat.
In other words, the setter does a thankless job much like a goalkeeper in football.
For the last seven years, M. Ukkrapandian has been shouldering the difficult job for Tamil Nadu. He is also India's No.1 setter.
Being India's top setter becomes a double-edged sword when he turns out for Tamil Nadu. His name is one of the first to go into the team sheet. On the flip side, his mistakes are magnified.
“I know that expectations are high when I play for Tamil Nadu. I understand the situation. It's only natural for people to expect more from me as I have been serving the nation for the last four years.
Pressure isn't an issue for me. Even victory and defeat don't affect me these days,“ Ukkrapandian said.
Ukkrapandian's performance in the final against Kerala in the national championship last year came in for fierce criticism from all quarters including this newspaper. The setter put TN’s diabolical show down to day’s performance. “Our plans failed that day. That’s all,” he added.
Ukkrapandian, an officer with IOB, is confident that Tamil Nadu can recapture the crown this time. “We have an excellent squad.
Everyone wants to win the title. The camp is useful because it’s an opportunity for players from different teams to develop understanding,” he said.
Winning the national championship gives the setter a psychological boost when he goes for the Indian camp. “Going to the Indian camp as national champion is a fantastic feeling. After missing out on the title in the last two years, I’m determined to win it this time,” Ukkrapandian said.
The setter said personal problems including the death of his father affected his performance in recent times.
“When my father was alive, he dealt with all the problems of my family. He wouldn’t allow anything to affect my game. In his absence, I have more responsibilities as the eldest member of my family.
My father always worked hard to see me as a top volleyball player. Despite some difficulties, I would strive hard to fulfill his dreams,” he added....