Interesting squash moments in store at the South Asian Games
Mention of multi-discipline Games and squash and instantly the mind goes to that famous moment in Incheon Asiad when India won its first gold medal in squash, thanks to that gritty Saurav Ghosal and an equally determined Harinder Pal Sandhu. The two had played their hearts out, a la Leander Paes style in tennis, to bring India another success story in the Games with a victory over formidable Malaysia in the team event. The scene shifts now to Guwahati where the squash competition is to be held in the South Asian Games from February 6 to 10.
Only days remain and the excitement is high because in what is a five-country contest (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh are the contestants other than India) the focus essentially will be on India and Pakistan. Then again, any contest involving India and Pakistan has to have that added interest considering the rivalry that it generates. In the past, both countries have been more or less sharing the spoils in SAF Games.
Much water has gone down the bridge since then with India now a force in Asia and some of its players have been watch-out competitors at the world stage. The same may not hold true for Pakistan in the strict sense. True the neighbouring country does not boast of the kind of players that had made it a phenomenon in squash. The Jansher and Jehangir era was special in world squash. But the legacy has not continued with the next generation hard pressed to attain that high level of excellence. Still Pakistani has not been a spent force either. Nor has India been tested after that Incheon epic. That is why the SAF competition this time should raise so much more interest.
At Guwahati, Pakistan is expected to be served by its current top player Nasir Iqbal, a former British junior Open title winner, Farhan Zaman and Danish Atlas. All these players have experience in the professional circuit and won titles too. What is more Nasir has beaten India’s top bet Saurav and world ranked 18, before. Of course the Indian has improved several notches and the Asiad show confirmed this as also his penchant to showcase his best when it comes to playing under the national flag. The only worry is whether Saurav is at his fighting best now. At the Hong Kong Open in November-December last he injured his foot, something that required a brief lay off. Saurav has since undergone training sessions in Doha and England and informed national coach Cyrus Poncha that he was raring to go.
Post the Asiad, there will be much pressure on Harinder the number two man. The young sardar has not shown that winning touch . Perhaps the drop in his ranking from 56 last year to 67 now, shows how much more he has to work. In familiar conditions and with home support will he rise to the occasion is the question on the lips of every squash lover. Harinder has much to offer and Guwahati could well be his second coming. Kush Kumar and Ravi Dixit are the others whose services would be utilized in the team event which again should be a toss up. Kush has been steadily improving and this Games’ outing should be one more test for him to show his potential. Something that holds true for Ravi too.
There are far better prospects for India in the women’s section with Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal, the two top 20 players of the world ready to blast their way to top honours. Pakistan suffers in comparison. Still there will be interest however in one Pakistan player- Maria Toorpakai Wazir- a Canada based player who has been training regularly under Jonathan Power and promises to be the surprise packet. India nonetheless has the wherewithal to shine. Promising Juniors Sunayna Kuruvilla and Akanska Salunkhe are also there in the Indian side.
In Poncha’s estimate “India should do well. I am confident about that.” Ultimately it will be the day’s form and consistency that would matter. At their best the Indians should have it their way. But will the dice be loaded in their favour? The answer will be known very soon.