Asian Games – Feature

“I have found the players all charged up for the occasion.  I think we should be back with at least four medals, better than last time,” was what Maj S. Maniam, the Consultant Coach of the Squash Rackets Federation of India and more importantly the architect who drew the road map for Indian squash more than a decade ago, said prior to the Indian team’s departure for the Asian Games.    What happened at Incheon surpassed even his  estimation.  True we won four medals but not many thought India would return with a gold, two silver and a bronze.  Indeed had Saurav Ghosal, who otherwise had an outstanding display at the Games, not choked in those final moments in that gripping singles final against Kuwait’s Abdullah Almezayen, we would be talking of two gold medals besides a silver and a bronze!

Not for a moment should one take away the merit of Saurav’s grand effort.  A product of the Indian Squash Academy and someone nursed up from childhood in the nuances of the sport by Maj Maniam himself, the Indian did himself and all his countrymen proud with the kind of forthrightness reserved for champions. It was one of those rare coincidences that he could play the same opponent twice,  losing to him once and returning the compliment in the next to ring in the glory that Indian squash deserved. “A dream come true,” said an emotional Cyrus Poncha, the national coach and one who stood by Maj Maniam right through the formative years of the ISA to see a dream grow and get realized.

In a way this showing at Incheon once again vindicated the strong belief that the visionary N. Ramachandran, currently WSF President and patron of SRFI had when he took the bold decision of establishing an academy at the turn of the century with government participation and strong support staff led by the noted  Coach  from Malaysia Maj Maniam.  Today seven out of the eight members in the Indian team _ Saurav Ghosal, Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa, Aparajitha Balamurukan, Harinder Pal Sandhu, Kush Kumar and Anaka Alankamony _ it must be noted are all products of ISA.  Mahesh Mangaonkar, the eighth member is also from an academy  but based in Mumbai. Still he  is part of the system that Maniam and Cyrus had laid for the betterment of the sport in the country.  Each passing year has only brought laurels to the country from squash and what is more helped ISA earn fame in and out of the country,  not to speak of the approval of the State and Central governments. And there is more to come for success breeds fresh ideas.

There is no resting until the goal of ensuring more and more champions keep emerging on a regular basis is reached. In Egypt the clubs are the nursery and the country today is the hot bed for squash talents. Each youngster looks to his own seniors for inspiration. In India too the new comers look to their seniors for inspiration thanks to the deeds of Saurav, Dipika, Joshna and Anaka in the main.  The over 100 children who regularly train in this ambience at the  ISA  learn  the virtues of planned process of development quite early.

What has certainly underlined the Indian performance this time was the belief that “we can do it”.  The Commonwealth Games success , that Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal scripted, had hardly passed over and the players in general looked an inspired lot. At the camp too prior to the departure,  the few who attended (some seniors were already busy in other major tournaments as professionals) showed the intensity to work hard and sweat it out.  If in the individual phase Saurav was the pick because he decimated the odds with clinical efficiency then in the team competitions it was Harinder Pal Sandhu who delighted all with the kind of brilliance in the final that stupefied even his guru Maj Maniam.  He laid the path and Saurav completed the task for a dream finish.  Certainly the success augurs well for Indian squash even as the sport is in hunt for an Olympic spot.  Who knows, there is more in store.


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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