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.