The 2014 Commonwealth Games had given enough evidence that Indian squash is currently on a high and the Incheon Asian Games proved it further. If the girls had set a benchmark at Glasgow by winning a historic gold, the boys were sure to match that incredible level at the Asiad to bring home India’s first Asiad squash gold.
It is a watershed moment for Indian squash. They improved upon their performance from the last edition of the Asiad where they secured bronze medals in the team events and in Men’s singles. With a rich haul of one gold medal in the men’s team event, two silver in women’s team event, on silver in men’s singles and another bronze in women’s singles, it has been an Asian Games to remember for the Indian squash fraternity.
Saurav Ghosal ranked World No. 16, was the top seed in the men’s singles and the Asia No. 1. His performances was true to his reputation till the final.
In the summit clash Saurav briefly flirted with the gold medal before going down in a heartbreaking loss to Kuwait’s Abdullah Kh Kh H M Almezayen. In the fourth game, Saurav had a gold medal point but it was not to be as Abdullah staged a brilliant comeback to deny Saurav the gold and take the match in 5.
In the women’s singles event, there was much hue and cry about the impending clash of India’s top two women players – Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa in the quarter-finals. World No. 12 Dipika had contemplated pulling out of the event after being irked at the draw which pitted the two Indians on the same side.
The two Indians ultimately did meet and it turned out to be an enthralling contest worthy of a final. Both know each other’s games so well having been regular training partners and thus the showdown was electrifying. Dipika finally got the better of her teammate in 5 and secured a bronze which was India’s first ever Asiad squash medal in women’s singles. She however couldn’t better the colour of the medal as she went down to World No. 1 Nicol David in her next round.
In the team events, India fared even better. The girls put up a solid display to upset Hong Kong in the group stage which indirectly helped them secure the silver medal as they could avoid Malaysia in the semi-final. With further wins over Pakistan and China, the girls set up a semi-final clash with Korea whom they saw off 2-0.
In the final, they squared off with the formidable Malaysian team led by Nicol David and the then World No. 7 Wee Wern Lew. Malaysia was too experienced for the Indian team and they had to settle for silver.
But it was the spirited show from the Indian men’s team which left an indelible impression in the minds of all Indian sports fans. With wins over Jordan, China and Japan, the team briefly did stutter versus Malaysia in the absence of India’s top player, Ghosal.
In the semi-finals, the team faced Kuwait and Ghosal got a chance to avenge his singles loss to Abdullah in another exciting 5-game encounter. With able support from Mahesh Mangaokar the team looked ready to lay their hands on the gold.
That the opponent in the final was none other than Malaysia was what made it special as the team could get their sweet revenge. Harinder Pal Sandhu played a brilliant match to stop the challenge of Iskandar Mohamad Azlan Bin.
Contributions of the Indian Squash Academy
This success is a culmination of years of perseverance and dedication of the entire team and the players who are the products of the Indian Squash Academy that has been churning out talent year after year. Most importantly it is the vision of the eminent Malaysian coach Maj S. Maniam, the Consultant Coach of the Squash Rackets Federation of India that is now bearing fruits.
Except Mahesh Mangaokar, all the medal winners – Saurav Ghosal, Harinder Pal Sandhu, Kush Kumar, Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa, Anaka Alankamony and Aparajitha Balamurukan have been products of this academy established in 2000.
With the setup of this academy squash was reinvigorated and rejuvenated in the country. The very concept of squash as a professional sport was changed and India started to make rapid strides in the world map of squash.
In 2012, national coach Cyrus Poncha had said, “Ever since I shifted to Chennai from Mumbai when the Indian Squash Academy came into being, the sport has been undergoing phenomenal changes.”
With the right guidance from the team and assistance from the government, Indian squash players have thus been making their presence felt in world events. Certainly, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games had been two of their biggest targets this year and the team has, without a shred of doubt, succeeded immensely in both.
The onus was then once again on the efficient shoulders of the Kolkata-born Saurav. Ghosal, who has had many firsts over the course of his career, put up a phenomenal effort to beat an inspired Ong Beng Hee, a two-time Asiad gold medallist. Having lost his chance to clinch the coveted gold once, Saurav didn’t repeat the same mistake and thus after an 88 minute gritty contest, he added another feather in his cap – an Asian Games gold medal.
It is thus a meticulous planning and development of squash in the country which is reaping the rewards now. With such an efficient structure already in place and after such an incredible show from our players, one can hope that even better things are waiting to happen for Indian squash in the future.