New Indian Express article

The last five years have seen India make rapid progress in the international squash arena. Not only has the fortunes of the Indian squashers changed for the better, but also the Squash Racquet Federation of India has been successfully organising national as well as international tournaments. India has been able to produce top-notch players in Saurav Ghosal (PSA ranked 42), Ritwik Bhattacharya (PSA ranked 60), Joshna Chinappa (WISPA ranked 39) and Dipika Pallikal (WISPA ranked 68). Ritwik has six PSA titles to his name, while Saurav has two plus a bronze in Asian Games 2006 at Doha.

And the silver lining, accord ing to national coach Cyrus Poncha, is that most of them have quite a few years to go before they reach the peak age (24 to 27) of a squash player. Saurav and Joshna are 20, while Dipika is just 16. Besides, there is a crop of young back-up players like Harinder Pal Singh, Parth Sharma, Naresh Kumar, Parthiban Ayappan, Ramit Tandon, Paramit Singh, Karan Malik and Ravi Dixit who are waiting in the wings.

In the women’s segment, there is sufficient cushion to Joshna, Dipika, Surbhi Mishra and Anwesha Reddy, thanks mainly to the growing stature of junior players like Anaka Alankamony and Haritha Omprakash. ‘‘It’s not just one or two players hogging the limelight. There is enough depth, potential and quality in them. The gap between these players and the top two is not that yawning. This also ensures there is sufficient competition at the domestic level,” said the consultant coach of Squash Racquets Federation of India Major Maniam.

Another heartening aspect is that the Indian junior team, too, has been making its presence felt in the global stage.‘‘Both the junior boys and girls have been performing remarkably well. We are one of the top eight junior teams in the World and we hope to break into the top three sooner than later,” said Maniam. The lucrative part too has brightened for the squashers. In the last five years, the number of national and international tournaments has doubled, and so has the prize money.

‘‘Tournaments are so galore that players now have the problem of plenty, as to which tournament to go and which not to,” said Cyrus. Consequently, more players are pursuing the game as a viable profession, unlike in the past where the game was a platform for higher studies abroad. Moreover, the game has slowly but steadily expanded its base. ‘‘Players are sprouting from states like Rajasthan, Uttranchal, Haryana and Punjab. This shows that the game is reaching more states and people,” said Maniam. Cyrus seconds Maniam, ‘‘Earlier, there used to be hardly 10 players for the girl’s U-11 school tournaments. Now we get almost 30-40 players for such tournaments.” And the Central government rightly rewarded the game by including it in the priority list of sports.

According to the secretary general of SRFI N Ramachandran, it is a recognition that the Indian squash deserved. ‘‘This means that there will be more funding for players and better opportunities for the federation to improve the facilities of the state associations,” he said. Overall, there have been more ups than downs in the recent years. And it’s a fair bet that the coming years will see a further upswing in the nation’s squash fortunes.

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Article in Hindu on the Squash Nationals

It was in the December of 2004 that Chennai last hosted the senior National squash championship – open and doubles – and the 55th edition, which gets underway at the ICL-TNSRA courts on Tuesday, comes at a time when the sport looks transformed with success stories. The Doha Asian Games last year brought India’s first squash medal in the form of Saurav Ghosal’s bronze and now with the Commonwealth Games ahead in New Delhi in 2010 the aspirations are for another medal in front of the home crowd.
“It is a realistic hope,” said N. Ramachandran, Secretary-General, Squash Rackets Federation of India. He attributes it to the systematic training programme that SRFI has been implementing ever since the emergence of the ICL academy here nearly a decade ago.Consistent good shows by Indian juniors in various competitions in Asia has evoked confidence in the squash fraternity, in particular the men who have been behind the Academy’s functioning, Maj. Maniam, SRFI’s consultant coach and Cyrus Poncha, the national coach, that “higher goals are achievable.”

On the eve of the national then Mr. Ramachandran said, “The top seven seeds in the open category are trainees of the ICL academy. There is prize money for the first time – Rs. 75,000 for the men’s winner and Rs. 30,000 for the women’s out of a total prize pool of over Rs. 6 lakhs.”It is not going to be a National where the focus will be on one or two individuals but one which will give an insight into the talent depth in the men’s and women’s sections,” he said.  On paper and in the absence of Ritwik Bhattacharya, who has opted out citing his recent knee surgery, defending champion Saurav Ghosal has the best chance of retaining the title. But, as Mr. Ramachandran put it, “It will not be a cakewalk. There are juniors like Parth Sharma, Naresh and Harinder Pal Singh ready to battle, not to mention Gaurav Nandrajog and Siddarth Suchde,” he said.

Similarly in the women’s section Joshna Chinappa looks set for her seventh title but Deepika Pallikal, Harita Omprakash, Anaka and Anwesha can run her close. The Open competition, the Masters championship and the professional championships will be held from July 17 to 21.The National doubles championship and the inter-State phase will be gone through from July 21 to 26.

The seedings: Men: 1. Saurav Ghosal, 2. Gaurav Nandrajog. Women: 1. Joshna Chinappa, 2. Dipika Pallikal. Professional: 1. Balamurugan 2. Dalip Tripathi. Over 35: 1. Niraj Shigaonkar, 2. Raja Parthasarathy. Over 40: 1. Rohit Thawani, 2. Chetan Ladiwala. Over 50 years: 1. B.I. Singh, 2. Vaman Apte.

Saurav Ghosal wins ICL Chennai Open

#1 Saurav Ghosal (IND) bt #2 Wai Hang Wong (HKG) 11-3,11-2,11-3 (21m)

Delighted with his second PSA victory, the national champion said, “I dedicate my success to my coaches Cyrus Poncha and Major Maniam.” He added that the Squash Academy was “a great source of encouragement to players like me. I wish to win more and more such titles to bring India the academy to the forefront of squash.”

Squash declared a priority sport by govt

The Ministry for Youth Affairs and Sports revised its categorization of sports disciplines in the country and has made squash one of the priority sports in the country. This comes in a wake of India achieving its first medal in the 2006, Asian Games held in Doha and Indian players like Saurav Ghosal and Ritwik Bhattacharya reigning the top 50 list of best players in the world.

Says N.Ramachandran, Secretary General, Squash Rackets Federation of India, “Its truly fabulous that Indian Squash is getting its much deserved recognition. This means a better funding from the government and increased opportunities for the federation to improve the infrastructural facilities of the state associations. The federation is keen to harness the talent of these junior players by giving them exposure to all international tournaments”

Cyrus Poncha National Coach, SRFI “This means motivation for all the aspirant squash players and a better scope of sincere participation to bring the sport to the forefront of Indian sports”.

Other than the men, the sport has also witnessed a steep rise in the participation figures in the women’s category. Apart from Joshna Chinnappa there are junior players like Dipika Pallikal, Anwesha Reddy, Aparajitha Balamurukan, Saumya Karki, Anaka Alankamony, Harita Omprakash etc.  Anaka and Saumya were the semi finalists at the British Open held last year.

Coach of the Gold Medal Women’s Team at the SAF Games, 2004 and Gold Medal Asian Junior Women’s Team in Pakistan 2003, Cyrus explains the situation “There used to be days when matches were cancelled for no participation of women. But the situation is definitely improving now with new possibilities in the current women’s junior team.” The boys who are turning out to be safer bets include Harinderpal Singh, A. Parthiban, Naresh Kumar and Parth Sharma climbing higher in the recent world rankings.

Articles in the newspapers

German Junior Squash Open

Ten promising Indian junior squash players are taking part in the German Junior Open being held from May 4 to 6. In the boys category those participating include Yash Bhansali (U-13), Aditya Jagtap, Adesh Bhansali and Ramit Tandon (U-15), Karan Malik (U-17) and Sujat Barua (U-19). The girls team include Anaka Alankamony (U-13), Aparajitha Balamurukan (U-15), Harita Omprakash and Anwesha Reddy (U-17). Anaka, Aditya, Ramit, Aparajitha, Harita and Anwesha had a good outing on Day1

“Ramit and Aparajitha, who were also the runner-up in the same event held last year, are quite confident this time too,” coach Cyrus Poncha said. “India’s performance in the junior circuit last year was evident with Indians winning the U-13 category. Our experiment with success continues this year too with more promising junior players headed for this championship”.

The Week article on budding juniors

In another part of Chennai, three young girls are busy on the court at the ICL Squash Academy. One of them has a board examination the next day and the other two have homework to finish, but the thwack of the racquet has pulled them to the court for an hour. A tired lot they might be, but these youngsters have a clear focus on why they are sweating it out. They are all in the sport to win, and win big. “When you start is an important factor in sport,” says national squash coach Cyrus Poncha. “It gives you an edge over competitors.”

One of his students at the academy, Anaka Alankamony, is realising the benefits of starting early. Though she started with tennis, she shifted to squash during a summer camp and bagged major titles recently. Cyrus foresees Anaka playing with experts like Saurav Ghoshal. “Anaka is a fighter, very determined in the court,” says Cyrus. That determination saw her finish third in the British Junior Squash Open at Sheffield in January. Squash has always been tagged as elitist, but players call it cost-effective. Being an indoor sport, it can be played round the year and is not affected by climatic changes. “Racquet and shoes together might cost about Rs 5,000. But, one cannot guarantee longevity of the racquet as it can get damaged if it hits the wall,” says Cyrus.

The logistics has worked out perfectly well in Anaka’s case. A student of class eight, she spends most of her pocket money and time on squash. “I practice for at least an hour every day,” she says. Staying in Chennai is a big advantage for her and other squash enthusiasts like Harita Omprakash, 16, and Aprajitha Balamurukan, 14. “Chennai is the hub of squash infrastructure,” says N. Ramachandran, secretary-general, Squash Racquet Federation of India. “Tamil Nadu is undoubtedly first in the national squash scene. Youngsters keen to master squash come here because of the infrastructure.”
Click here to read the complete article

Economic Times article on squash

There is nothing superfluous about this sport. After all swatting a 24grams yellow rubber dot against a wall doesn’t look too arduous. But as the momentum picks up and the ball gets heated it starts cruising like a nuclear pinball. The court then becomes a war zone, where survival asks for superb reflexes, great stamina and a perfect game plan.
Squash is one of those sports, which can be learned only in a minute but it certainly takes a lifetime to master it. Squash is not new to India. The sport got popularised during the Raj era and that’s why today most of the old clubs have a squash court in their long list of sports amenities.

Perhaps this is also one of the reasons, why squash is still considered to be an elite sport. But for now it seems that a young Indians are all set to make their mark on the squash courts. For some its a passport to the foreign shores and the rest for love of the sport. And, with India winning the bronze medal at the recently concluded Asian games, the future of the squash in India certainly looks brighter.

“The prospects have never looked so good ever before,” asserts national coach, Cyrus Poncha. He feels that it’s just a matter of time when one of the players will make it to the top rankings and the sport will get its due credit. “Today, we are at an important juncture. We have the infrastructure and the players.Once, one of these young lads perform and we have a world champion from India, you’ll see squash catching the fancy of many more people,” expresses Poncha. The mood in Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI) is upbeat. Recently, government also agreed to upgrade the level of the game in its list, which entitles the federation for availing more grants and facilities.

The academy in Chennai, which opened in the year 2000 already boasts of world-class infrastructure. It has got eight courts, which includes a portable glass court, a gym and a swimming pool. The men’s world championship will also be staged at the academy this year. “Our aim is to popularise the sport and provide the grounds from where we can find and nurture talent. We’ll be soon coming up with similar academies in all the major cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chandigarh,” reveals N.Ramachandran, secretary general, SRFI. Ramachandran wants to break the myth that Squash is an elite sport. “Now that we are eligible to send players abroad for training, export sports equipment and hire foreign coaches. I’m sure we will be able to make the sport reach to the masses,” he envisions.

Already SRFI has appointed S. Maniam, who was the head coach of Malaysia for 20 years as the consultant coach. Maniam is also handling the National Junior Development programme, which is designed to promote the game at the grass root level. “My job involves developing a coaching scheme for coaches and to nurture new talent. In the past we held camps at different cities and identified talented players. The aim is to produce national level teams,” says Maniam. Still, Maniam feels that coaches need to take their job more seriously. “We’ve a handful of coaches who work full time. One of the biggest need is to increase that number,” asserts Maniam. He also believes that the difference between Malaysia and India is mainly about the financial assistance. “In Malaysia, I have a target and if I achieve it, I get aid. Here things are a bit different,” he voices. Read more of this post

Business Standard extract

“This is another area where the game needs more professionals like Cyrus Poncha, who was also at the helm of the team which did well at the Doha Asian Games. The national coach has been training with the squash players for quite some time now. Neither is squash limited to these four names. There are a few others, such as Ravi Dixit, Sandeep Jangra and Parth Sharma, who have been doing well at the junior level and have the potential to do even better.”

India wins Bronze at Asian Juniors, Hong Kong

The Indian boys recovered from being a match down to defeat hosts Hong Kong 2-1 and win the bronze medal on the final day at the Asian Junior Squash Championships. Sandeep Jangra first on court, fought hard to over come a 2 game deficit to level the scores but was unable to win the fifth against Hong Kong’s #1 Leo Au. Parth Sharma leveled the tie with his game of accurate lengths and precision finishing defeating Fung Ji Yang convincingly. Naresh Kumar playing the decider for India kept his cool to play outstanding attacking squash to defeat Chan Kai Chi in straight sets. 

The Indian team performed marginally better than the last Asian Junior Championships held at India in 2005 where we finished fourth. “In the semi finals if we could have pulled off the match against higher ranked Malaysia against whom we fought well; it would have been wonderful, nevertheless winning the bronze is a great achievement” said National Coach Cyrus Poncha. Consultant Coach Maj Maniam said “Our boys have been working very hard for the past 2 years; they have learnt what it takes to be a professional squash player. I am confident and convinced that in the next two years they will be performing well on the PSA tour.

This is the last junior team championship for all the boys, Sandeep turns 19 years later this month, followed by Naresh later this year and Parth and Harry early next year.” “We have really trained very hard at the ICL Academy for this event and the fruits of our labour equated to a worthy bronze at this championship said Harinder and Parth in unison.”Earlier in the individual event both Ravi Dixit and Ramit Tandon gave a good account of themselves which certainly augurs well for the future of junior squash in India.

Sandeep Jangra lost to Leo Au 9-3, 9-0, 5-9, 5-9, 9-0
Parth Sharma bt Fung Ji Yang 9-5 9-0 9-4
Naresh Kumar bt Chan Kai Chi 9-3, 9-5, 10-8

Hindu article on Ravi Dixit

Close on the heels of the Doha Asiad, a strong 18-member team represented India in the U 13, U15 and U17 Boys and Girls category at the Scottish and British Junior Squash Open which concluded recently.

Fourteen-year-old Ravi Dixit, participating in his first European event in the Boys U 15 category claimed his maiden European title – Scottish Junior Open in Edinburgh at the Heriot-Watt University Squash Centre. Currently undergoing training at ICL Squash Academy, Chennai, under Major Maniam and Cyrus Poncha, he said it was a tough battle. “It was tough. I trained really hard and my coaches were an enormous source of encouragement. I guess that’s why I won,” Read more of this post