Squash at the South Asian Games in Nepal was in effect a test of India's depth of talent in an international arena. True India's key rival was Pakistan, a one time force in the sport. Still, with the seniors keeping away after showing an initial reluctance to be part of the national team, preferring a major PSA event in Hong Kong instead, the onus was on the next set of players both in the men and women's sections to prove their worth. It must be said the India's, so to say, experiment was a pleasant success. Both India and Pakistan finished with 6 medals overall but India won the overall honours by virtue of having more silver medals in their tally. Perhaps the success could have been as overwhelming as one achieved in Guwahati in 2016, where India had won three gold medals to the two here in Kathamandu.
Nonetheless, the result must have satisfied the Squash Rackets Federation of India because the pre-Games mood was a touch sombre with the services of the higher ranked players, including seniors, in particular, Saurav Ghosal, Mahesh Mangaonkar and Vikram Malhotra and Joshna Chinappa, not available.
The irony is that these players, at least most of them, may have felt that they could still have made it to the team because the Hong Kong event suffered a late cancellation but then SRFI had already finalised the squad. To some extent for the Federation too it was a challenge, perhaps a faith and conviction that the selected lot would deliver. With Pakistan arriving at full strength, particularly in the men's side, the worry in the Indian ranks was understandable but everything boiled down to the show on the courts, particularly the ability to be uninhibited and play true to potential.
The focus on the men's side was Harinder Pal Sandhu and Abhay Singh, both attached to the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai while the burden of expectations on the distaff side fell on Sunayna Kuruvilla and Tanvi Khanna, incidentally the top two seeds. The top two seeds in the men's section came from Pakistan _ Tayyab Aslam and Farhan Mehboob_ and that meant the Indians had an extra task in hand.
Harinder, as is his wont, showed his fighting spirit by wearing down the second seed and higher-ranked Farhan over five gruelling games in the semi-final and ensuring himself a silver or gold. It was a case of conviction surpassing known form. However when it came to Abhay Singh, another young lad who too does not give in easily, the story became different. Abhay was on the cusp of a grand win over top seed Tayyab but it proved a case of a slip between the cup and the lip. From a match-ball situation in the fourth game, Abhay lost his way and in a flash the Pakistani bounced back to wrap up the game and grabbed the deciding fifth game too next to storm into the final. That single effort was enough for Tayyab to touch top form in the final and Harinder's hopes went up in thin air.
Things were however lot simpler in the women's section where India dominated but what stood out was the star show of Tanvi Khanna. Not one who was well known in the domestic circuit initially, the Delhi girl showed the grit that the top seed Sunayna Kuruvilla could not and the result was there to see.
Tanvi went on to win the gold at the expense of her country-mate and top seed Sunayna and what is more, she anchored the women's team to another gold later. In one stroke Tanvi had done enough to bring cheers to the Indian camp. What must have heartened Indian squash officials was the way Tanvi as also Sunayna had come up in the sport in recent times, thanks to the HCL-SRFI India Tour that had a series of PSA events.
As the Secretary General of SRFI Cyrus Poncha was to say later, “Much delighted at what the boys and girls did in Kathmandu. We had taken a decision about the team and these players proved us right. I am particularly gladdened at the show of Tanvi and the standards exhibited by Sunayna and Harinder. The HCL podium programme is only in its first year and already we have had positives. So once again we have proved our strength in this Regional Games and more important, there is enough indication now of a strong base in squash in the country.With more squash events on the anvil and the generous support of HCL there, brighter times are ahead for squash in India.”