Barely minutes are left for Andhra Pradesh’s volleyball match against Delhi to begin and, as is often the case, Koteshwar Rao is busy. The only difference this time is, unlike the other occasions where he is going over the strategies, the Andra Pradesh coach is bothered by something more basic — half of his team do not have shoes.
The 12-member squad is here for the Khelo India School Games. Six of them hail from families that are so poor that, Rao said, they couldn’t even afford shoes. So on the match day, he went searching for footwear for his the players. While a couple of them managed to borrow a pair from rival players, Rao couldn’t find a perfect fit for three players. Two of them — Nooka Raju and Tiriputti — are the key members of his team and Rao wants them to play the must-win match against Delhi, even if it means they’ll have to do it barefoot.
Eventually, four Andhra players enter the court barefoot. Although they could not win the tie, the underdogs gave the tournament favourites a run for their money, losing 21-25, 19-25, 16-25. “These boys hail from poor villages and cannot afford shoes. If they had spent money on shoes, they would have been left with nothing back home. Most of these players are children of fishermen and cannot afford these basic things,” Rao says. “We played the game without thinking too much about what we don’t have. We were given some socks by the organisers. These boys are fighters.”
The fighting spirit of the Andhra team was seen on the court as well. In every set, Andhra took the lead against their fancied opponents, raising hopes of a repeat from the 2017 sub-junior nationals, where Andhra had blanked Delhi, the eventual champions, 3-0.
For the Khelo India School Games, however, they were without a couple of their key players who couldn’t travel because of exams.
A win would have guaranteed Andhra a spot in the knockout rounds after they had beaten heavyweights Tamil Nadu and lost to Uttar Pradesh earlier in the competition.
Haryana take overall lead
PTI adds: Haryana wrestlers carried their state to the top of the medals tally at the end of the fifth day’s competition in the first Khelo India School Games. Seven of their eight medals of the day came from wrestling as the northern state now have 52 medals with 20 gold, 16 silver and an equal number of bronze medals. Delhi with 16 gold, 18 silver and 24 bronze medal are in second position followed by Maharashtra with 47 medals which includes 16 yellow metals.
Haryana picked 14 gold medals in wrestling to emerge as the top team with Delhi a distant second with six. In swimming, it was Karnataka to the fore with 14 gold as against Delhi’s seven and Maharashtra’s six gold. Swimming sensation, Srihari Nataraj of Karnataka was once again among the top stars of the day with two gold and his tally swelled to six gold and one silver while Delhi’s duo Annie Jain and Firdoush Kayamkhani grabbed four each during the week. Annie won two gold on Sunday, while Firdoush added one.