An Indian performance that speaks of better things ahead
India did not return empty handed from Chinese Taipei after the Asian team championship. Where it had to be bronze medals only on the last occasion from Hong Kong two years ago, this time the women brought a silver and the men settled for bronze. But what was important, as national coach Cyrus Poncha who had accompanied the team, said was that both the boys and girls had done pleasingly well. “The boys did give Pakistan a close run in the quarter finals and that itself was praiseworthy considering the team was without a senior like Saurav Ghosal while the girls had ousted the top seeds Hong Kong en route to the final to show that there is enough potential to bring more laurels during the year,” he said in his assessment.
All said, it must still be said that both the men and women could have returned with brighter medals than what they gained ultimately! The run of play was such, performances at some points were so inspiring and yes what lacked was that consistency to keep the good job going. Indeed, what can one say of the women who could raise their game to such level to down Hong Kong the top seed and championship favourite with panache. Both Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Karthik Pallikal were outstanding that day. Indeed, when Joshna and Dipika touch form, none can stop India. That is what happened. Joshna demolished the higher world ranked Annie Au in straight games to put India back in the match after poor Sachika Ingale's inexperience saw her lose to Liu Tsz-Ling.
Joshna had beaten Annie before but what stood out was the manner of the win, something that was to inspire Dipika as she set out to play the decider against Joey Chan. Not just that Joey was an in-form player but she had never lost to Dipika in the five earlier meetings the two had. What transpired initially was the making of a disaster for India with Dipika losing two straight games. Poncha described it well, “Dipika looked stunned, shattered but what was unbelievable was the way she collected herself from there.” Used to facing odds of every nature in her professional circuit, the Indian is never known to give in easily. In a matter of a game (third), she quickly changed the script, made Joey the hunted and what panned out was stuff of a thriller- all the three remaining games going the Indian's way in a show of absolute ascendancy. It was a stunner, and that alone made many believe they had seen the Championship winner already!
But then like all good things, India's best had come a match early. Having lost to Malaysia in the group league earlier it was felt the second time around it would be India's chance! Not so when a player of the calibre of Delia Arnold was around. The shrewd Malaysian, who was leading her side in the absence of world renowned Nicol David not just shouldered the responsibility well but was businesslike in her play. She gave nothing away but made every move to unsettle her opponent and it was Joshna Chinappa who was at the receiving end.
In the first meeting if Dipika had put India tantalisingly with a wonderful win over Delia's sister Rachel, the latter was left clueless by the end, then it was Joshna who was hard pressed to find a way past Delia. So when the 'revenge' time came, the focus was on the Indian duo. Indeed, if Joshna, who came after Sachika's fall, had downed Delia the door to victory could have been yanked open because Dipika was there. Delia effectively sealed that and a dream died.
On the other hand, the men had looked a big worry. Without Saurav Ghosal, who pulled out with an ankle injury, the team lacked a genuine spearhead. Harinder Pal Sandhu's initial showing was hardly inspiring and a chance leg strain that Kush Kumar suffered did not auger well. Only young Velavan Senthilkumar's youthful exuberance had looked re-assuring. This explained India's mess against Japan. Losing that match was heart-breaking. But brighter things were to come next. Miraculously India in the quarterfinal shut out higher seed Malaysia thanks to Harinder and Kush. From depths of despair to the heights of joy it was one big swing in mood and play. That set the tone. Against Pakistan in the semi-final, Harinder once again was at his sterling best while disposing of Farhan Zaman in five games. True Velavan did not prove a match to experienced Farhan Mehboob but the plot still looked good. Kush was all positive initially against Tayyab Aslam, even led 2-1 in game scores but as luck would have it, could not persist. Heartbreaking yes, but what a come back it was overall. That is what made the national coach happy as others were in the end.