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British Junior Open squash 2016- nothing extraordinary but a few high points for India

462   //    08 Jan 2016, 11:52 IST
Neel Joshi with his award on Wednesday

The U-13 sensation from Mumbai Neel Joshi lit up the faces of the Indians at the British Junior Open(BJO) this year. A wisp of a lad, Neel did not let the Egyptian rampage to upset his approach of steadfast determination.  A bagful of titles in 2015 including the national title had buoyed the youngster’s  confidence level and all this came to the fore in Sheffield where he started off slowly putting aside the challenge of two UK boys in the initial two rounds and then demolished the second seed Mohammed Mostafa of Egypt in a long fight.

That signalled the boy’s mood and a quick win over English boy Oliver Green for a semi-final place was typical of a player in cruise mode.  But there the giant killing acts ended at the hands of Muhammad  Azhar of Malaysia.  Still grabbing the third place at the expense of Kareem  El Torky for a bronze medal was praiseworthy as it was a just reward for a gritty show over the week.

In a way, Neel’s efforts sought to shore up the otherwise average performance level of the 20 other Indians who had made it to the BJO 2016.  Not that it was easy what with Egyptian boys and girls out to take everything at stake in the competition. In numbers and in terms of standards these kids were certainly giving an indication of the level of squash currently on in Egypt.  As of now look no further but to Egypt for the future superstars of the sport.  It is in this midst that Neel’s performance acquires that extra polish.

Among the other Indians, Sandeep Ramachandran and Velavan Senthilkumar  looked promising in the U-19 section but could not go beyond the third round.  Sandeep caught the eye initially with two wins over seeded players Oliver Harris (England) and Basel Ghanem (Egypt) but despite showing the fight could not get past England’s top player Patrick Rooney in the third round.  

South paw Velavan also was confidence personified in his wins over Ryan Wilson and Harry Falconer, both English players with straight game victories pointing to better times ahead. But like Sandeep, Velavan too fell to an English boy James Peach though considering the way both he and Sandeep had showed their mettle,  the two could have done better. Velavan is incidentally India’s current national junior champion. Ranjit Singh, the other Indian in this group was unlucky to face the strong Egyptian Saadeldin Abouaish  in the second round and there ended his tenure.

Adhitya Raghavan made some ripples in the U-17 boys, by reaching the quarters but Egypt’s Marwan Tarek stopped him there. Until then the 5/8 seeded Indian looked fluent.  Others in his company, Yash Bhargava and Aryaman Adik  lasted but just one round each.  The U-15 section was the badly hit by the Egyptian onslaught. Veer Chotrani, Tushar Shahani and Yash Fadte, all of whom have time and again showed their capabilities but fell round three victims to the Egyptians.

In the girls section, Navmi Sharma was the pick.  Enjoying a bye in the first round,  she progressed till the quarterfinal in style but like her counterparts in the boys section, succumbed to an Egyptian (Nouran Youssef). Else it was a bad slip for the others.  There was some expectation on Harshit Kaur but after a bye and a second round, this Delhi girl crashed out.  So did Ananya Dabke (U-13), Sunayna Kuruvilla, Akanksha Salunkhe and Ashita Bhengra (all U-17) before raising hopes.

On the semi-final day then Neel ensured India had a presence too.  The higher seeded Azhar was rattled initially by the Mumbai lad’s exuberance but clung to the first game over extra points.  But from there the Malaysian dictated terms and ensured his passage to the title round. For Neel the lookout was for a third place and duly got it with another fine outing, this time beating an Egyptian Kareem EL Torky.  The country top junior now has emulated Kush Kumar’s success of 2015 with the bronze.  Maybe that should encourage him to script more heartwarming stories in 2016 and to that extent  keep the Indian squash flag flying high.

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Over three and half decades of experience in sports journalism. Been a squash writer for over a decade and covered virtually all major championships in the sport from World championship, Asian to national championship.
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