Flaunting flamboyance and raising standards

Their’s is the nuanced difference between a trendsetter and a trailblazer. While Ritwik Bhattacharya was the first of Indians to make inroads into world squash’s professional circuit, Saurav Ghosal promises to step up the pace with attacking strokemaking – his unmistakable flamboyance in tow.
What’s more – having persisted with this style after moving base to England and seeking out a coach who encourages just that – he might just draw in more crowds in India, with the flash still intact. A narrow 9-11, 8-11, 11-6, 11-6, 11-10 (2-0) win for Saurav Ghosal over Ritwik Bhattacharya in the PSA Otters Open here was only the second for the 20-year-old over his senior opponent. Ghosal’s first had come during the Nationals two seasons ago when Bhattacharya, then recovering from an illness, had reported half-fit for the summit clash. But Ghosal’s outgunning of the World No 43 at Otters, soon after touching his career-high 59 this month, also points to a change in what Indian squash can dish out. An aggressive game— shorter rallies and killing the ball quick — which world-toppers like Egyptian Amr Shabana (ranked 1 in the world) and James Willstrop (ranked 4) boast of. A shift to Leeds where he now trains under the quirky master coach Malcolm Willstrop, was a conscious decision to accentuate such offensive inclinations. That he has three of the world’s top-10 sharing court-space at the Pontefract Academy – James Willstrop, Anthony Ricketts (5) and Lee Beachill (10) means that Ghosal can closely observe where trends in squash are headed now.

With only Bhattacharya for domestic competition when he hit around in India, Ghosal is also glad about the raised standards he encounters abroad. “The wins don’t go to your head playing there with so many better players to be beaten at any given time,” he insists. “Just training with them all, you get to see what level you need to reach to be in the top bracket, where you lack and where they bottle you up. Also it makes me look forward to practice,” he explains of his apprenticeship, after shifting to Leeds exactly a year back. “Malcolm’s training sessions are both instinctive and creative,” he says of the renowned coach, whose innovative drills are as legendary as his inimitable wit and candour.

The former British Junior Open champion, also the first Indian to qualify for the Seniors event this year, has steadily changed his technique – notably the swing – a touch slowed down. The movements are not as rushed, he mixes the pace more and there are more drops from the back-court now. While in England, Ghosal also claimed the inter-University title, after getting through the heaps of Economics assignments, which he argues require daunting research – akin to squash’s tightest workouts. Super Sunday though, is a bigger hurdle crossed. “Beating Ritwik meant a lot to him and he won after being two games down,” says national coach Cyrus Poncha, who had supervised Ghosal’s early training in Chennai and stresses that his ward is tactically more astute than a year ago.

Would he cut down on risks and play the percentages now ? “People come to watch strokemakers, and I intend to stick to my attacking style. The challenge is to make it lethal and pay off every time,” he stresses. There’s no looking back.

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About Cyrus Poncha
I was born and lived in Bombay before moving to Chennai in 2001 to coach the Indian national squash team....what a journey its been!!

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