Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXIII No. 13, October 16-31, 2023
Amidst the buoyant show of the Indians in the Asian Games in Hangzhou, the one sport that listed its best ever performance in these quadrennial Games has been squash. With two gold medals (men’s team and mixed doubles) aside from one silver and two bronzes, this has been the country’s best medals tally in squash since the 2006 Games in Doha. Of the eight members of the Indian squad who helped the sport reach a new high, five – Saurav Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal Karthik, Harinder Pal Sandhu and Abhay Singh – have one thing in common. All of them had their upbringing in this sport at the Chennai Squash Academy, called now the Indian Squash and Triathlon Academy.
Conceived by Mr. N. Ramachandran, the then Secretary-General of the Squash Rackets Federation of India (now the Patron), he made this world class facility a reality by the turn of the millennium with his relentless effort. Started with the leading Malaysian coach Maj Maniam at the helm and Cyrus Poncha as support the Academy became the happening centre for Indian squash and the developments over two decades are a proof of how squash had become a trend setter in Indian sports. Maj Manian left after a long tenure but with Poncha, the former national coach and current Secretary General SRFI ensuring things remained as earlier, squash continues to be a medal getter in the Asiad and the latest Hangzhou edition adds one more glittering chapter to this continuing story.
A highlight this time undoubtedly was the success of Harinder and Dipika in the newly introduced mixed doubles event. Weeks before the Asiad, the two had clinched the Asian mixed doubles championship which was held at the same venue as a prelude to the induction of this new event in the Asiad. Favourites then, the experienced campaigners, though not as active in the international circuit as earlier, proved that when it came to the crunch, experience and ability were good enough to thwart any opposition. Besides, in the case of Dipika it was a case of motherhood (she is a mother of a set of twins), not coming in the way of excelling in a sport that had always been close to her heart. In every sense it was a great come back for these two seniors who had grown up together in the Academy.
Joshna and Saurav, both Asian champions, have a history of great achievements and Hangzhou was expected to add another feather to their caps. In their thirties, things can be different. At least it showed on Joshna whose best helped only in the women’s team gaining a bronze medal. Ghosal, still presenting a fit and vibrant look, appeared every inch a winner on the court. He guided the men’s team to gold and really looked good to finish off the campaign with another gold, what would have been his first, in the men’s singles too. But the Malaysian Eain Yow Ng whom he accounted for in the team event, effected a turnaround in what was a tightly contested match and the hopes of a dream finish lay shattered. Watching all this, among others was Maj Manian himself sitting in the Malaysian camp! Wonder what must have crossed his mind watching his former ‘product’ trading his brilliance with his current home ‘champion’! A silver medallist earlier, the gold again proved elusive for Saurav. Will he be able to correct that four years from now, only time will tell but the great man’s enthusiasm exudes optimism.
Looking ahead with hopes of a even more decisive presence on the court will be the next emerging force from the Academy, Abhay. In the eight years since he turned professional, this 25-year-old has already won 7 PSA titles after being in 11 finals. A great fighter on the court and sound on his strokes, this lanky player is one with a great future. In Hangzhou, Abhay helped India clinch the gold medal, by winning the decisive match in the tense men’s team final against Pakistan. Later, partnering Anahat Singh, bagged a bronze in the mixed doubles.
Overall, a spectacular show worthy of a special place in the annals of India’s sports history. Just as well that Chennai continues to have a hand in these happy tidings, thanks to the Squash Academy. It started in 2006 in Doha when squash first emerged as a medal winner, through Saurav and the proud trend continues.