If Rohan Bopanna Can Do It At 43, 37 Is Nothing: Mohan Ukkrapandian

Rubbing shoulders with experienced foreign stars in Prime Volleyball League has lifted Indian players' standards, feels Calicut Heroes setter Mohan Ukkrapandian. The veteran talks of what keeps him ticking at 37, and his admiration for Mahendra Singh Dhoni in an interview with Outlook India

Prime Volleyball League Media
File photo of Calicut Heroes setter Mohan Ukkrapandian (right) in action during the 2022 season of Prime Volleyball League. Photo: Prime Volleyball League Media

The Indian sporting ecosystem is a complex entity, and how to propel it in the global arena remains a matter of intense debate. But when it comes to elevating gameplay standards, athletes across disciplines are increasingly pointing towards the benefits of home-grown sports leagues. Volleyball is no different. Ask India veteran Mohan Ukkrapandian. (More Volleyball News)

The 37-year-old credits the Prime Volleyball League (PVL) for the national men's team's strong recent performances. "Many renowned players from other countries are competing in the Prime Volleyball League. Some of them have much more experience than us, and our youngsters are learning from them," he tells Outlook India.

Mohan says rubbing shoulders with international stalwarts in the high-stakes environment of PVL helps players manage pressure better. Take the team's stunning upset of South Korea at last year's Hangzhou Asian Games, for instance. "The match was going neck and neck. In the fifth set, the scores were level at 14-14 when we pulled off two crucial blocks to win it. We could do it because of our prior exposure to such crunch scenarios."

Who better than Mohan to hold forth on experience? The middle blocker-turned-setter from Tamil Nadu has plied his trade in the Indian volleyball firmament for close to 17 years now, but wears them lightly. "Age is just a number; only performance speaks. Look at what Rohan Bopanna did last week (became the oldest-ever men's Grand Slam winner with the Australian Open title). If he can do it at 43 (years), 37 is nothing."

Calicut Heroes setter Mohan Ukkrapandian trains ahead of the upcoming Prime Volleyball League 2024 edition. Photo: Prime Volleyball League Media

This sunny disposition is of critical importance for his PVL franchise Calicut Heroes, who he helped take to the semi-finals in the previous season. The senior-most member of the side will have a huge role to play if they are to claim the title in 2024. "The setter has to lead the team. The coach can stand outside and give instructions, but their implementation is in the setter's hands."

Mohan believes the team has a fair idea of where they went wrong in the second edition, and hopes to be third time lucky. "We made some mistakes last season and have been trying to work on them in the past few weeks. We have a young side and good bench strength this time around, and will try to utilize that to the fullest."

The senior pro is a huge admirer of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and aims to take a leaf out of the legendary cricketer's book whenever he takes the court. "In his interviews, Dhoni always used to say that it's not about the results, but about the process. I truly believe in that."

Mohan explains: "Results won't come in a day. You need a process for that. Once you start following the process rigorously, it will eventually win you championships."

Dhoni's famed ice-cool demeanour on the field is the other aspect that the volleyball titan tries to imbibe. "Whenever I get angry, I lose my temper and with that, my concentration too. I can't pinpoint the errors clearly. So from him, I am learning how to stay calm and in the moment, to find out what to do in the next point."

Mohan fondly remembers the time when he met Dhoni "from a distance" in 2010. A Chennai Super Kings supporter, the Calicut Heroes setter would be raring to emulate the magic that Dhoni did with CSK, come PVL season 3.

Watch the live coverage of RuPay Prime Volleyball League Season 3 from 15th February 2024, 6:30pm onwards on Sony Sports Ten 1 SD and HD, Sony Sports Ten 3 SD and HD (Hindi), Sony Sports Ten 4 SD & HD (Tamil & Telugu) and on the Sonyliv app and website.