Achraf El Karagui, the Egyptian consultant coach had just finished his morning session at the Indian Squash Academy. But there was still some unfinished work in the office to attend to. More importantly, he needed to finalise his tickets for London.
Achraf was to join the three senior Indian professionals, Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Saurav Ghosal at the prestigious British Open, a prominent event in the world of squash. This is as per the latest arrangement of the Squash Rackets Federation of India to have a coach present with the players for key events in the world.
This is a new beginning, an exercise to satisfy the hard working players who had often expressed difficulties in giving their best because of a lack of expert advice during matches. Achraf was clear that this latest decision of SRFI was one big step forward for Indian squash. He said that world over, the best players always had an expert eye around to provide course-correction, so to say, during matches.
“It is all fine to be highly talented, splendidly trained and be ready for the occasion but on the court, things still can go wrong when you misread the rival game, fail to find a right strategy or slip in performance inexplicably. It is never easy to think on all this while playing. That is when a coach can give tips, provide the mental strength and prop up the morale,” said Achraf, who has had experience of doing this while on tour with Egyptian players which included some of the top names like Ramy Ashour, a former world number one.
The Egyptian coach said that back home, it was not just a coach, but the entourage would even have a physio and a doctor to assist the players. “It helps the players to also feel at home and put in their best performance,” he said. He should know because Egyptian players are among the best in the business of winning squash honours all around the world.
That there are six Egyptians in the top ten in the men’s ranking, including the world number one Mohamed Elshorbagy, and four in the women's section, including the top-ranked Nour El Sherbini, is a testament to Egypt’s dominance in the sport.
Then again, those who had followed the progress of the Indians in the British Junior Open in January when the three – Velavan Senthilkumar, Abhay Singh and Aditya Raghavan – took the tournament by storm by finishing in that order in the U-19 Boys section, would not have missed the role of Acharaf.
Achraf's presence and his effort in making the players believe in themselves was no less contribution to the big moment that India achieved there. In fact, there is one area – mental strengthening – which he has been emphasising in the academy too, where in the eight months that he has been there so far, Achraf has been dealing with players of all ages, from beginners to the professionals.
“What I liked most is the way the players listen. They are great listeners. I also believe they are understanding what I am instructing them,” he said on his experience at the ISA thus far.
When asked what the big difference was between coaching in India and Egypt, Achraf shot back, “the absence of parental pressure.” Smiling, he said, “I must thank Mr (N) Ramachandran (Patron of the SRFI and the man behind the establishment of the ISA) for this. Parents are not allowed to the coaching area and that is a great step,” he said.
Humble to the core, the Egyptian said he cannot say how much he has toned his trainees. “Please wait till 2018 to judge me,” was his submission.