A MEMORABLE YEAR – 2014

The year 2014 proved to be one of the best for squash in India.   New milestones were reached and reputations soared even as India entrenched itself as one of the strong forces in the sport in Asian continent. The happy tidings started with the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow in July. Never having achieved much in this quadrennial sports programme, India had a couple of firsts this time. More specifically Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal made history by not just winning a medal but a gold at that, India’s first in the Games history.

The fifth seed duo beat the redoubtable top seed pair of Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro of England in straight games 11-6, 11-8. Earlier, the Indians had stormed into the final with a dramatic win over second-seed Australian pair of Kasey Brown and Rachael Grinham in the semi-finals. The Indians won 11-9, 7-11, 11-4 in a 50-minute thriller.

It could have been doubly sweet had Sauav Ghosal too had succeeded. The top ranked Indian male player, came into the bronze medal round before losing to the higher ranked Peter Barker. Still, the semi-final that Saurav reached is the highest by an Indian in a singles event in the Games.

A month later in Nambia in the World junior men’s championship, Kush Kumar, another trainee of the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai came to the limelight by being the first male player to reach the semi-final in an individual event in the World championship. The Dhampur boy, who had shifted to Chennai to hone his skills under the tutelage of Maj S. Maniam, the SRFI Consultant Coach and Cyrus Poncha, the National Coach, won a bronze. The Indian team, comprising of Kush, Madhav Dhingra, Vijay Kumar and Velavan Senthil Kumar finished sixth in the team event.

The Asian Games in Incheon in South Korea brought the next big moment for squash. India has won bronze medals in squash in the earlier Games but the big change this time was not only that India won medals but a first time gold as well. Saurav Ghosal clinched a silver medal for India in the men’s singles squash event after losing a close final to Abdullah Al Muzayen of Kuwait. Dipika Pallikal settled for a bronze, losing to Nicol David in the women’s singles semifinals.

In the team event, Saurav Ghosal and Harinder Pal Sandhu played against all odds to beat tough Malaysian opponents 2-0 in the best-of-three men’s squash title contest to provide India with its first ever gold in the Asian Games. The Indian women were beaten 0-2 in the team final by Malaysia which was spearheaded by world no 1 Nicol David. Malaysia took the gold medal and India the silver.

The celebratory mood in the squash fraternity continued with Anaka Alankamony getting nominated for the coveted Arjuna Award. Currently pursuing her studies in the US, Anaka has been part of the star trio, Dipika and Joshna being the others, to serve the country with distinction.

While these have been the picks of a great year, there have been flashes of brilliance here and there to underline the growing stature of this sport in the country. Veer Chotrani won a gold in the Asian junior individual championship held at Kish Islands in Iran. Veer established his strength again in the Hong Junior Open by winning the title. Tushar Shahani also lifted the u15 title in Hong Kong. At the Pioneer Cup tournament in Cologne, Germany the country’s top juniors Yash Fadte (U-13) and Velavan Senthil Kumar (U-15) won the titles.

The rise of Harinder Pal Sandhu was another glittering chapter in the year. After his heroic show in the Asian Games, when he set the path for India’s glory, Harinder returned to India to win three titles in the JSW-PSA home series then bagged his maiden senior national title at the expense of Saurav Ghosal and led India to a gold medal glory in the Asian Beach Games held at Phuket in Thailand. With Kush Kumar and Aparajitha contributing, India in all won three medals in Phuket.

For the two leading ladies in Indian squash it was a year that furthered their status. Joshna won her 8th career WSA title besides adding one more senior national title, her 13th , to her kitty. Dipika won two titles in the JSW-WSA home series.

The year closed with Tamil Nadu youngster Navaneeth Prabhu winning the boys U-13 title in the Singapore Junior Open.

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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