Squash is all set to take wings in India. The sport is finding new roots in Kerala. Hitherto not gone beyond Tamil Nadu, squash made its debut in this southern state early last year during the National Games. The squash complex which had come up as part of the Chandrasekhara Nair Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram for the Games will soon witness another historic moment shortly.
For the first time in the history of the sport in India, Kerala will host the 63rd edition of the senior national championship in July and the newly formed Kerala Squash Association has high hopes that this major event will set the ball rolling, so to say, in increasing squash activities in this state.
As Aneesh Mathew, the Secretary of the State Association put it, “it is a big moment for us because it will give a bit push to our plans to give squash a strong base in the State.” Ever since the National Games last February, the State Association had been making a fervent effort to utilise the new facilities _ the four courts, one of which is for doubles _ at the Chandrasekhara Nair stadium complex, which comes under the charge of the Kerala Police. Mr Mathew said, the Kerala Police had been extremely cooperative in the Association’s desire and plans for developing the sport and had helped in organizing special camps to train young talents. “We have over 50 boys and girls taking advantage of this and our idea is to pick around 12 best from this camp and bring them to Chennai’s Indian Squash Academy for a short period of specialized training,” he said.
Years ago, it was at the initiative of Kerala Police that sports in general in the State had received a special fillip. The sports-minded DGP then Mr. M.K. Joseph took keen interest to make the Police the best in various sports and succeeded in getting several sportspersons into the police force in the process. The State too was greatly benefited by this venture and for some time in the eighties, Kerala dominated in several sporting disciplines in the country. A similar high is what squash could experience if the Kerala Police’s encouraging gesture is anything to go by.
The nationals will be a great occasion for Kerala to showcase for the first time the cream of Indian squash talent and inspire the squash-minded young talent and supporters of the sport in the State. For the moment, Mr Mathew is happy a leading newspaper like Malayala Manorama has given positive signals of supporting the major event. “We are also planning a ‘Squash in 2024 Olympics’ campaign involving some leading squash players of the country.
Be that as it may, the national championship this time will be one more reflection of the growing competition in the sport in keeping with the highs Indian squash has seen in 2014. Perhaps none signified the changing scenario better than Harinder Pal Sandhu. One of the brightest talents to emerge from the ISA, Harinder played a big role in India’s gold medal success in the Incheon Asian Games, then showed his mettle by winning three PSA events in the country, followed it up with a gold medal in the Beach Games in Phuket and cemented his place among the best in the country by winning for the first time the national title at the expense of none other than Saurav Ghosal, the highest world-ranked male player in the country. Both are great mates but showed the hunger to excel on the court and that could be another spectacle in Thiruvananthapuram if form plays true.
For, Harinder was on a dream run then. He had fired past Mahesh Mangaonkar, seeded higher to him before shocking the nine-time winner Ghosal. The focus will be on these three again as also Ramit Tandon, who has plans to return to the squash circuit after having completed his studies in Columbia. Looking upto them will be scores of other young talents from various parts of the country. A sample of what high quality squash the juniors could exhibit was witnessed at the recent ISA junior Open in Chennai. And this augurs well for some eye-opening moments in the Natioanals.
The woman side could suffer a wee bit without Anaka Alankamony, who is studying in the USA and possibly Dipika Pallikal, who had even last year given the National a pass. But Joshna Chinappa should be there to continue her journey. She has 13 titles so far and beating Bhuvaneswari Kumar’s record 16 is her goal. Currently there is little others can do to upset this Chennai’s lady’s applecart. Though it must be said, in Sachika Ingle (last year’s finalist) Adya Advani, Harshit Kaur, Akanksha Salunkhe there is a corp of young determined talent on the way. But Joshna will be the star.
This year’s national is also special in the sense, it has been scheduled in July and not the customary November/December time. As National coach Cyrus Poncha was to say, June and July are the months when major competitions in the PSA and WSA take a short break. Hence the World Squash Federation had advised its units that these two months could be utilized to conduct the regional championships. Then again in earlier times this would not have meant much for India because Indian participation in the world circuit was minimal. It’s a reflection of the country’s growing stature that there are several more Indian participants abroad. Hence it would help them take part in the National Championship without the worry of missing world level competitions.
Meanwhile, entries have begun to trickle in for the Thiruvananthapuram meet and if it was over 450 at the CCI in Mumbai last year could it be any less this time in an historic first in Kerala?
Winners in Mumbai 2014: Men: Harinder Pal Sandhu; women: Joshna Chinappa; Men: (35 yrs): Rishad Pandole; ( 40 years):Manish Chotrani; (45 yrs): Darius Surti; (50 yrs): Deepak Moolani; (55 yrs): Vijay Jaini; Professional: Paramit Singh.