First up, what is the Prime Volleyball League?
A franchise-based league for the sport of volleyball on the lines of the very successful Pro Kabaddi League. The stakeholders for the PVL include the promoters Baseline Ventures and the seven teams involved. This, according to PVL CEO Joy Bhattacharjya, ensures transparency and accountability.
Who are those seven teams?
Ahmedabad Defenders, Bengaluru Torpedoes, Calicut Heroes, Chennai Blitz, Hyderabad Black Hawks, Kochi Blue Spikers, and the Kolkata Thunderbolts. Each team has a 14-player strong squad, with two slots earmarked for foreign players.
When's it from? Where are they playing it?
The PVL starts from Saturday, February 5. The league stage will run till Feb 21 with the playoffs for the top four happening post that. The final will be on February 27. It's being held at the Gachibowli indoor stadium in Hyderabad.
COVID-19 restrictions, of course, necessitate a closed-door event, but the matches will be telecast live on the Sony network (and SonyLIV). There'll be one match per day, from 7 PM onwards.
Anyone we should keep an eye on?
The league has an interesting mix of experienced foreigners and exciting Indian talent.
Olympic (and World Cup) gold medal winning middle blocker David Lee of the USA will line up for the Calicut Heroes, alongside two of India's best - Jerome Vinith (capable of playing in attack and defence), and Ajithlal Chandran (hitter).
Vinith was one of three Indians who attracted the highest bids in the PVL auction, Rs. 15 Lakhs, alongside middle blockers Ashwal Rai (Kolkata Thunderbirds) and Karthik Ashok (Kochi Blue Spikers). Look out for hitter Henry Bell of Cuba (Hyderabad Blackhawks) and teammate, hitter Amit Gulia. Muthusamy (Ahmedabad Defenders) is comfortably the most expensive setter in the league and will want to show everyone just why he was worth Rs. 10 Lakh.
Kerala volleyball great Tom Joseph (retired) recommends we keep an eye on middle blocker Akhin GS (Chennai Blitz), while his teammate Fernando David Gonzalez of Venezuela (hitter) could catch a few eyeballs too.
Did we not have a franchise-based volleyball league earlier?
Oh yes. The Pro Volleyball League in 2019. It had six of the seven franchises that make up the current league, and ran to packed houses in Kozhikode and Chennai. It was won by the Chennai Spartans.
This was discontinued after the Volleyball Federation of India pulled the plug on it mid-contract. The matter went to the Madras High Court, who ruled in favour of Baseline and asked VFI to pay up to Rs. 6 Crores in damages to the promoter.
When the Prime Volleyball League was announced, the VFI announced that they would have a league up and running before the PVL. There has been no movement on that since.
What are the rules?
The basic rules are fairly simple.
The volleyball court is divided into two sides by a net that's 7 ft, 11 and ½ inches (2.43m) off the ground (that should give you an idea of just how tall these athletes are and just how powerful their jumps are). You earn points for every time the ball hits the opponent's court or bounces out-of-bounds off an opponent. Like in badminton (which incidentally was the inspiration behind this sport), you win a point, you win the chance to serve.
Each team can have three touches (not including any blocks at the net) of the ball before it has to cross the net. You can use any part of your body to keep the ball in play, as long as you don't catch, hold or throw it. One player cannot touch the ball twice consecutively (not including any blocks at the net), and no one is allowed to touch the net while the ball is in play.
Matches typically are won by best of five sets. The first four sets are upto 25 points (with at least a two point difference). The fifth and final set is upto 15. The first team to win three sets, wins the match.
How many players are there on a team?
You have the outside hitter - left-sided attacker who needs to jump high, and smash hard (spike), they are the lead attackers, the one who grabs the most points.
The middle blocker - who's generally the tallest person in the team and leads the frontline defence in terms of blocking at the net.
The opposite hitter - right-sided attacker who has the same skillset as the outside hitter but they need to share defensive responsibilities along with their attacking ones.
The setter - the team's playmaker, who dictates the flow and pace of attacks as he delicately sets up spikes for the hitters.
The libero - the one who's in a different-coloured jersey to the rest, they are purely defensive players who can only play on the backcourt. The defensive specialist - as the name suggests is the main receiver and passer of the team.
Note - the front half of the court (the first 10 feet near the net) is where the attacking happens, the backcourt is used for defense. You cannot block or attack serves from the frontcourt.