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Vol. XXVIII No. 3, May 16-31, 2018

The Chennai link to India’s Squash success

by S.R. Suryanarayan

Page 8 picture

From left to right: Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Saurav Ghosal

If India has been doing well in squash in various international events, then a major credit has to go to the trio Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Saurav Ghosal. They all belong to the top 20 in world squash and they also have Chennai as a common link. Joshna and Dipika are Chennai girls, while Saurav, who came over from Kolkata as a schoolboy to get trained at the Indian Squash Academy, made Chennai his second home even after completing his schooling and leaving the city. Squash ensured this, and then there was an additional reason too: Saurav is married to Dipika’s sister.

If anything they have been the mainstay of Indian squash for some time and each time an Indian squad leaves for an important championship or an event, expectations surround these three. At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, Joshna and Dipika with their doubles display had commanded attention by winning the first-ever gold medal for Indian squash. Four years later, at the Commonwealth Games held recently in Gold Coast, Australia the look out was naturally on how they would fare. Preparations were good, pressure was high as were the expectations and the returns ultimately were two silver medals and, yes, it was these three players who ensured that between them! Joshna and Dipika won one in the women’s doubles and Dipika and Saurav got the other in the mixed doubles.

True, a gold medal win is what glitters but as Joshna was to submit, and rightly too, soonafter the team returned, “We did not come back empty handed and we did our bit to help add to India’s medals tally.”

It was that satisfaction that the members of the team experienced. There was also the fact that two Indian pairs were right there in the title round, something that was unprecedented. It was that aspect which made the two silver medal effort something to be considered as truly praiseworthy.

Then again, at the highest level of competition, it is not skill alone that mattered but the day’s form. All players on view at Gold Coast, for instance, play the professional circuit and to that extent each knew the other’s strengths and weaknesses like the back of his or her palm. The trick lay in adapting to conditions quickly and move on. The Indians were a trifle late in this as the initial phase of the campaign was to reveal and none reflected this more than Saurav himself. The man who missed a medal by a whisker in Glasgow after finishing fourth, and one who always inspires his team-mates made a stunning exit in the second round itself, beaten by a relatively unknown player. Dipika too went out early in the third round, while Joshna went the farthest (quarterfinal). Technically then Joshna had the best outing in the Open events which preceded the doubles where things happened for India.

The second phase of the campaign proved eventful for the Chennai trio. Joshna and Dipika, in keeping with their status as defending champions, deservedly reached the title round but the New Zealanders Joelle King and Amanda Landers-Murphy had the last laugh. It was a close encounter in all respects but it was a day when a usually reliable back hand went awry or a deft touch to the corner would miss the mark, enough to court disappointment, which the Indians did. The duo gracefully exited with reputation intact because they had given the Kiwis a hard run. Similar was the mixed doubles show of Saurav and Dipika. Saurav, regaining touch, was the high point, while Dipika was as ever efficient. When they sent the top ranked Joelle King and Paul Coll of New Zealand packing in the semi-final it looked as though the big moment was on the threshold for India. But the final proved a different ball game, one where the Australian pair of Donna Urquhart and Cameron Pilley made the most of the familiar conditions and  overwhelming audience-support.

Looking ahead, the Chennai stars believe that only one challenge has ended and that there is another in the offing, the Asian Games in Jakarta in August/September. Once again India will look to these three in the main for something spectacular. If the Gold Coast show is any indication, then Jakarta should provide a feast for India, for, the Indians are gradually peaking. Besides, the collective determination has already been seen.

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