Saurav Ghosal: An admirable player and a great ambassador of Indian squash
One still remembers the early days of the Indian Squash Academy in the immediate aftermath of the birth of the new millennium.
Just as the novel facility, inspired by the zeal of Mr N. Ramachandran, the then SRFI Secretary-General, was the focus of everyone's attention, there was a young 15-year-old lad making everyone sit up and notice his oozing energy on the squash court.
This was Saurav Ghosal. Diminutive in stature but a player with a big heart and passion for the sport, he was one of ISA's prized products, coached and fine-tuned by the Malaysian expert Maj (retd), S. Maniam, the first Consultant Coach of the SRFI, and National Coach Cyrus Poncha. As Ghosal put it aptly, “I am not sure if I wanted squash or squash wanted me, but I have enjoyed every moment since I took up this sport.”
Keen followers of the sport would see a Leander Paes in him for the kind of passion he demonstrates, especially when playing under the banner of the national tricolour. The 2014 Incheon Asian Games is an example. Nobody who watched the proceedings would ever forget the performances the young man put on as he braved the odds and came screaming off the court after beating Ong Beng Hee from Malaysia, one of the world's best, to take the crucial singles match and give India their first gold, the team gold, in the Games.
What made it even sweeter for Ghosal was that he had compensated for the unbelievable loss in the singles open competition, in which he was the top seed. He was two games up and had match point in the title match against the lower seeded Kuwaiti Abdullah Al Muzayen when things went dramatically wrong for him.
The Kuwaiti turned the contest on its head and sank Ghosal in misery thereafter. Even today, three years after that incident, Ghosal sulks. “I have not been able to reconcile that. And that makes me all the more determined to make amends. I am looking forward to the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta,” he said in all seriousness.
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Much has happened over the years to this genial man from Kolkata, who is extremely popular in Tamil Nadu squash circles since his younger days. From a bubbling kid to a remarkable world-class player, he has undergone a big transformation. A bright graduate from Leeds in England and an enriching experience at the Pontefract Squash Club under the venerable Malcolm Willstrop, the father of former world junior champion and world number one, James Willstrop, add to his stature.
Then, of course, there are his accomplishments. From being the first Indian to become Junior world number one and later the first Indian to win a medal in the Asian Games (bronze in Doha 2006) to becoming the first from the country to enter the quarterfinal of a World Championship (2013, Manchester), Ghosal has come a long way.
Currently, he is the record holder for having annexed the highest number of national championship titles, winning the senior crown 11 times and edging out R.K. Narpat Singh's 10 to second place.
Looking back, Ghosal feels, “everything just happened." “It was not goals but dreams that made me come to squash,” he said. What made him happy was that unlike a few years ago, the sport in the country now had many more talented players at the highest level.
Having toured various parts of the globe as a professional, it made him proud that “people are looking at India as a kind of force in squash.” To that extent, Ghosal paints a rosy picture although he believes that more Academies like the one in Chennai would give the sport a greater thrust.
Ghosal, who was in Chennai to attend a camp prior to the World Doubles Championship in Manchester, praised his professional colleagues, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal for all they had done to make India a force to be reckoned with in the squash world.
On his association with squash, Ghosal said it was always his dream to be in the top-10 in the world and leave the scene that way. Looking to the future, he believes he can play a role in the uplifting of all sports in the country, not just squash. “I have the experience for squash and I feel there are enough sports talents in our country who need help to come up and shine. May be some day I could be part of this system to help them out,” he said as he signed off.