Time for Indian squash to make a statement
The junior show is over and the focus will shift on to the seniors now as the Asian Games, scheduled in Jakarta, nears. The two phases of Indian squash, so to say. For squash lovers, the just concluded world junior squash would have been a touch disappointing looking into the fare of India alone. Else it must be said the action on view with the Express Avenue Mall adding a variety to the ambience, was nothing short of excellent. Everyone had a glimpse of not just superpower Egypt but also, and it can be said without fear of contradiction, the future stars of the sport in the international arena. The Egyptians proved a class of their own and streets ahead of the rest in terms of talent.
In this setting, any country was bound to lose shine and India was no exception. But having said that, the host could still have been a little more assertive and finished better than the 11th place the boys finally did in the team event. Also maybe at least one Indian could have risen to the last eight, if not higher in the individual competition that preceded the team event.
Expectations can be a burden and playing in front of a home audience, the pressure can be heavy. Neither Yash Fadte, Veer Chotrani (only they had previous experience of playing at this level of competition), Rahul Baitha, Utkarsh Baheti, Sankalp Anand or Advait Adik nor the girls, Ashita Bhengra, Sanya Vats (both have previous experience), Ananya Dabke, Aishwarya Khubchandani, Yoshna Singh, Jannia Singh could produce anything exceptional.
But in the team event, which was exclusively for boys, India seemed in a better place to prove a point, particularly against Pakistan and that was saying something. A former champion, in fact, the defending champion, Pakistan has a history in the world junior championships but the team that landed in Chennai seemed a shadow of its predecessors. Even the seedings gave India a far higher place than Pakistan and so when an India-Pakistan tie materialised at the pre-quarterfinal stage, it was only to be expected that fans believed that history was set to be made at the Express Mall.
India had never beaten Pakistan in a world championship. Everything, including the standards of play on view till then, had pointed in favour of the Indians. Pakistani boys, however, showed they knew how to absorb pressure where the Indians melted. Dreams died. But the consolation was that this Indian crop was still very young with age in its favour and there is genuine hope for better things next time.
For the seniors, however, this is crunch time. The leading three, Saurav Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik, all of whom are in the top 20 in the world have little time ahead. Age is catching up. Their best has to be now. Each of them has a personal coach, as per their own documentation to the Government, though their training has always been at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai right from their childhood.
Their personal coaches do not form part of the Academy. All these years this has been the practice: of holding the mandatory camp at the ISA before any major competition and India's fortunes in international events have never suffered as such. Each outing has only been a one step improvement. In Doha 2006 India had one medal (bronze) through Ghosal, a trainee then at the ISA. In Guangzhou 2010 India had Ghosal winning a bronze again and the men's and women's teams too earned a bronze each. At the last Asian Games in Incheon, India won a gold in the men's team event, a silver in the women's and Ghosal had a silver to show in the men's singles and Dipika a bronze.
Will Jakarta then bring out the best in the Indians and this includes regulars Harinder Pal Sandhu, Mahesh Mangaonkar and newcomers Ramit Tandon, Sunayna Kuruvilla and Tanvi Khanna? Provisional seedings show Ghosal has been given the pride of place in men's singles while Joshna and Dipika are seeded three and four. Much will depend on the way these leading lights take things forward and inspire others, for they have grown in strength, learnt everything that the sport has to give from, in their own brash estimation, coaches abroad and their personal ones. It does not matter if the ISA is only a training ground. Let the result be resounding for ultimately nothing else counts.