Miles to go and promises to keep: Harinder Pal Sandhu is ready

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Harinder Pal Sandhu 
Sharikkalraman Suryanarayan

The only time Harinder Pal Sandhu can apparently get nonplussed is when someone tries to engage him in a conversation in Tamil! Having been in Chennai for 14 years now and getting his grounding in the sport of squash at the Indian squash academy, he has, of course, never felt any handicap for his inability to pick up the language. But the ace squash player, fresh from his scintillating exploits in Australia, is a different person when the tackle is on a squash court.

The fire in his eyes mirror his grit and the springiness in his limbs exhibit the man's readiness for a fight and indeed, Harinder can be a delight to watch when he is the mood to take on the rival. For one who is a firm believer in the adage that a match is never won until the last point is taken, Harinder hardly reflects tension even when defeat stares at him. “Just do it,” is his inner voice and he clings on to that till the last. He has staged many heroics that way.

In recent times Harinder said he had this experience in Australia in the PSA tournaments when once or twice, he had to stage a comeback from arrears and he did them well. That explained his current touch where in the last 17 outings, he is yet to lose! Since May till well into July, Harinder has won four tournaments on the trot -- Malaysia Tour event, the Makati Open in Philippines, South Australian Open in Adelaide and the latest, the Victorian Open in Melbourne.

His nine PSA titles make it one better than Ritwik Bhattacharya's best of eight. Small record, for title-wins in the professional circuit need not necessarily put one among the elite in the World. But nonetheless, it is a small step in the long journey of hopes and aspirations.

For Harinder, however, whatever has happened was only for the good. He needed to inspire himself after the way luck had turned against him in the recent past. The man who had at one time come up with a streak of brilliance when he first laid the path for India's gold medal win in the team event in the Incheon Asian Games, topped it with his maiden national championship crown and followed it up with a gold medal performance in the Asian Beach Games, all in 2014, was suddenly struck by injuries thereafter.

That was also the year when he had won all his five year PSA titles (all in India). To suddenly find himself nursing one injury or the other and in the process, missing out from professional and other commitments could have devastated any player, let alone somebody who was on the verge of a take off to an exciting career phase. But Harinder bid his time. The disastrous outing in March this year drove him into despair but things began to happen from May, starting with the Malaysian tour.

What stuck him as he basked in his happy times was the support. "I must say the Indian Squash Academy, SRFI patron Mr. N. Ramachandran sir in particular, reposed confidence in me, supported me, encouraged me and that has been the backbone of my career. I cannot also forget the role of my Coaches, if it was Maj S. Maniam Sir along with National coach Cyrus Poncha Sir earlier then Achraf (el Karurgui) Sir has also come in now to ensure everything was on the right lines. They help me in choosing PSA tournaments judiciously. There are others too whom I must mention like Gym instructor Ilayaraja, Physio Dimple, Coach Balamurugan and Academy officials Sarada Ma’am and Harish Sir," Harinder went on to explain how blessed he felt for his present state.

14 years ago, this Mohali native had just one dream: to become one of the best squash players in the country. He chose the ISA because of his strong belief that this was the institution which was going to tune him up.

Harinder has no hesitation in admitting that much of his growth is because of that. He did not neglect studies, having completed his graduation. "I am now fully into squash, as a professional player and I feel I have much more to contribute and achieve. Earlier, players would think of hanging up their rackets at age 28 or so but now because of the vast changes in the coaching methods and newer ideas that had come in. Today players go on with high performance even at 35 or 36 years of age," he said, convinced that his best was ahead of him.

The PSA wins in recent times, have helped Harinder assess himself. "I feel stronger mentally though I need to improve my physical strength. Achraf Sir has helped in strengthening my mind, my approach to a match," he said.

In short, Harinder felt that what has transpired of late, has made him ready for the tougher challenges ahead, like the immediate World Doubles in Manchester. In a way then, encouraging times are back for Harinder and the young man is now keen to open up on his immediate goals: to win the national championship again and be in the top 50 in the World rankings.

Edited by Amit Mishra


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