Sports star article on SRFI, ICL Squash Academy

The winners at the Chennai Nationals had at some point of time been, or continue to be part of the India Cements Academy. This is a tribute to the Academy’s systematic and scientific training. Ten years can be a short period in history. But for Indian squash much has happened during this time ever since the India Cements Limited Academy was established in Chennai in the late 1990s.

With the setting up of the Academy, one big dream of squash lovers was fulfilled then; now, like any businessman appreciating the returns on his huge investments, N. Ramachandran, the Executive Director of India Cements and Secretary-General of the Sq uash Rackets Federation of India, is a contented man. Especially after seeing the results of the National Championship and the National Doubles Championship, which concluded in Chennai recently. Tamil Nadu swept all the five titles at stake. And what is more, each of the winners had at some point of time been or continues to be part of the Academy. What more can the advocates of systematic and scientific training ask for? Tamil Nadu’s success has been overwhelming and its domination has been envied by others.

It is not that all the trainees at the India Cements Academy belong to Tamil Nadu. Some of them come from Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, and the shifting of their base has not posed a problem, for their schooling and board and lodge were easily worked out. Ultimately, the refrain is if Saurav Ghosal can come over from Kolkata and become a big success in Chennai, then the others too can do so. All this goes to show what can be achieved with organised training. The success of the India Cements Academy should pave the way for more such facilities in other parts of the country such as Ajmer, Indore, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, where squash talent traditionally surfaces. With squash getting increasingly accepted at the international level — it is one of the events in the Asian Games and in the next decade or so should enter the Olympics — the sport is bound to evoke greater interest.

Already the Government of India has responded positively to the recent achievements of the nation’s squash players, like Saurav Ghosal winning the bronze medal at the Doha Asian Games, by bringing the sport into the priority list. As a result, squash would command more government funds for players’ training and their foreign trips. However, Ramachandran is not particularly enamoured by this. ‘The Government funds are fine but we will always find our own resources,’ is his motto. He believes, the lesser the procedural hassles — the Government matters are always that — the better it is for both the officials and players to plan well ahead. And surely the SRFI supremo is looking ahead to India making a mark in squash at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.

What inspires Ramachandran are the performances of Saurav Ghosal, who won his third National title, and Joshna Chinappa, who claimed her seventh title, and her firth in succession. Both the players also have decent world rankings — Saurav is ranked No. 42, while Joshna is 39. Besides, the bright potential of some of the young brigade cannot be discounted, especially Siddarth Suchde, a diligent player fresh from Harvard who is keen to hone his skills.

In the final of the Nationals, Suchde was laid low by Ghosal, but his performance clearly showed that he has the fire in his belly. The way Parth Sharma and Naresh Kumar, both under 20 years, have matured as a doubles pair is another big gain for Indian squash. The duo shocked Ghosal and Harinder Pal Singh for the title. Maj. S. Maniam, the Consultant Coach of SRFI, said at the valedictory function of the Nationals, “It is a good happening. We know we have an established and strong pair ready for the big challenge.” he said.

Joshna remains India’s best bet on the distaff side. She intends training under Malcolm Willstrop, who also coaches Saurav, and the chances are that she will go up in her rankings. Dipika Pallikal, who finished next best to Joshna, is trained by Mohamed Essam Hafizan of Egypt, a former top-30 player. Dipika is still in school and so has age on her side. Playing against a tough rival like Joshna keeps her motivated. A notch or two behind Dipika are Anwesha Reddy, Harita Omprakash, Anaka, Aparajitha, all in school but keen trainees and ready to excel. The Chennai Nationals will also be remembered for Balamurugan’s exploits. The man, who was adopted by the Academy and who rose to become a Level II coach, went on to win his tenth title (professional category) in a row.

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.

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.”

5th ICL Chennai Open: Qualif

The qualifying round commenced for the 5th ICL Chennai Open a US$ 6,000 PSA event being held at the ICL Squash Academy in Chennai. The event is held from 12-16 July 2007.The star attraction will be local boy and World # 42 Saurav Ghosal who has been given the top seeding. Four juniora who returned from Kuala Lumpur last night had an opportunity to qualify for the event. Ravi Dixit and Ramit Tandon defeated Paramit Singh and Karan Malik respectively to qualify for the main draw. The Sujat Barua played a tight and consistent game to upset Shakti Singh. B. Balamurugan got a bye into the main draw.

Ravi Dixit bt Paramit Singh 8-11, 11-6, 16-14, 11-5; Ramit Tandon bt Karan Malik 11-8, 11-8, 11-4; Sujat Barua bt Shakti Singh 11-6, 7-11, 11-5, 12-10; B. Balamurugan – bye

Anaka & Ravi win Penang Junior Squash

ICL Academy trainees Anaka Alankamony (Girls u13) and Ravi Dixit (Boys u17) returned victorious from the Penang International Junior Squash Championships held from 6-10 June. Anaka was the only Indian double winner of the Penang Open as well as the Malaysian Junior Open (31 May – 4 June).

Anaka once again defeated county mate Saumya Karki in the final, 9-1, 1-9, 9-5, 10-9 proving that these two are the leading players on the Asian circuit in their age group. Anaka and Saumya won their semi finals in straight games defeating Malaysians, Yong Sue Ann and Celin Yeap respectively.

Ravi Dixit defeated Ng Jo Wen, winner of the Malaysian Junior Open, in the final of the Penang Junior in close four games 9-7, 9-2, 8-10, 10-8. Ravi kept the pressure from the start using his drops to great effect. In the semi final, Ravi turned the tables on South African Stephano Gras 9-4, 9-6, 9-0. At the Malaysian Open Ravi had lost to Stephano in 5 set thriller.

This is Ravi’s 1st international title in the boys u17 category, he had previously won the Scottish Junior Open in Dec 2006 in the u15 category.

Other Indian’s making the top 4 were Anwesha Reddy (Girls u17) , Ramit Tandon (Boys u15) – runner up, Dheeya Somaiya (Girls u15),  Pankhuri Malhotra (Girls u11), Akshay Deepak (Boys u15) 4th position. These achivements were fitting end to a month long Malaysian tour arranged between the Squash Rackets Federation of India and Squash Rackets Association of Malaysia. The boys and girls have benefited immensely from the 2 week stint sparing and training with the Malaysian juniors.

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.”

Dipika Pallikal “misquoted”

On her website Dipika Pallikal states the following: “One of the Articles in the Times of India, Bombay edition, has quoted me as saying ‘I care a damn about SRFI’. This is not true. I have been misquoted and I apologize for the hurt it may have caused. Though I do not train at the ICL Squash Academy these days, I always remember that it was at the very same Academy that I learn’t to hold a squash racket in my hand and grow from there. Whatever be the reasons, I have become the black sheep of SRFI but I know that one day soon, India would see the best Squash players bring pride to their federation and to their nation.”

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

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