Squash was introduced in the South Asian Federation Games (later South Asian Games) in 1989 in Islamabad. This was the fourth edition of the SAF Games. The event was open for men only with team and individual being the competitions. Pakistan’s strength in squash is well known and showed this in this Games by winning the two gold medals at stake.
Then came a huge hiatus before squash made its second appearance in 2004, once again in Pakistan in the ninth edition in Islamabad . This time the event was open to men and women competitors. While Pakistan confirmed its supremacy in the men’s section, India emerged as the top team in women’s with Joshna Chinappa winning the gold and Mekala Subhedar the silver. Pakistan men and Indian women won the gold respectively in the team competition.
In 2006 in Colombo again, Pakistan was to the fore in the men’s section and India took the turn in the women’s. Sri Lanka placed second for silver in women’s section pushing Pakistan to bronze medal. In the individual Pakistan’s Mansoor Zaman and Aamir Atlas Khan took the gold and silver leaving India’s Gaurav Nandrajog and Harinder Pal Sandhu as losing semi-finalists with the bronze medals. In the women’s section Joshna Chinappa defeated Dipika Pallikal for the gold. Sri Lanka’s Tehani Guruge and Nirasha Guruge were the bronze medalists.
Squash was part of the programme in Dhaka in the next edition in 2010. Only, this edition had no competition for women. Expectedly Pakistan won the gold medals in singles and team events. Aamir Atlas Khan was the winner and Farhan Mehboob the runner up. Indians Sandeep Jangra and Gaurav Nandrajog settled for the bronze. In the team event, Pakistan beat India 2-0 for the gold with Mansoor Zaman beating Ravi Dixit and Aamir Atlas Khan edging out Nandrajog.
The 2016 edition could be a path breaker for Indian squash for expectations of the country taking full honours are high. Even though five countries are in the fray _ India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal _ once again it should boil down to an India-Pakistan affair in both men’s and women’s sections. Such is the gulf of difference with the other participating nations. While the women squad, always strong , look even more so now with two top twenty players in the world, the enriched Joshna Chinappa (world rank 14)and Dipika Pallikal (rank 17) there to do duty, the men’s bunch also look quite competitive. Spearheaded by Saurav Ghosal (ranked 20) the team has previously tested Harinder Pal Sandhu, a former national champion now, Kush Kumar and Ravi Dixit.
In comparison Pakistan in its ranks Nasir Iqbal (ranked 36) who has beaten Saurav before, experienced Farhan Zaman and Danish Atlas Khan among others. On paper Indian and Pakistan look evenly matched and that should queer the pitch for close contest. The worry for India is that Saurav, who had a brief lay off after a leg injury while playing in the Hong Kong Open has not had a match play thereafter though he has been on intense training in Doha and England. Also Harinder has not been in the best of touches though he is no push over as such. It may be recalled it was his gritty display that helped Saurav thereafter to put India on way to a historic gold medal in the Incheon Asian Games in 2014.
On the women’s side, Pakistan has the Canada-based Maria Toorpakai Wazir ranked 50 and with previous experience, to lead the bunch which has Sadia Gul (ranked 94), an aggressive player, among others. Sri Lanka has in Mihiliya Methsarani, a youth commonwealth games bronze medallist. Else the team is relatively inexperienced. India will have Joshna to spearhead. If necessary the two promising juniors Sunayna Kuruvilla and Akanksha Salunkhe are there to shoulder the burden. In the individual competition too, the focus should be on Joshna and the other Indians.