In any sport, it is the leading players or sportspersons on whom hinges the rise or fall of the sport. In a way, they are the beacon lights to guide or inspire the rest. Cricket provides the best example. One only needs to mention Virat Kohli or MS Dhoni and instant are the debates and discussions for they have been such great performers. Both have a legion of followers. Similarly, even if a bit scaled-down is the scene in a sport like squash, which may not be high profile like cricket. Still, when it comes to inspiring the many up and coming players, squash too has its top notchers. Players like Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa have been the leading duo for the last couple of decades and their exciting deeds are something unprecedented in squash in the country. Until a year ago Dipika Pallikal Karthik too was part of this core group but having taken a long break, she has dropped off and the focus has been on Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa - who are regulars and a noted duo at most Professional Squash Association (PSA) events in the world.
Growth as they say leads to demand or may be insights. Both these players have been mostly on their own for the various programmes and at some point of time they did feel the lack of a coach as a handicap. Not that at this high level they need to be coached in the conventional sense but reading a game or to be more precise assessing a contest can be helpful to a top player to adjust his or her approach in keeping with the requirements. India had the Malaysian expert Major S. Maniam for long as a foreign coach. When he departed, Egypt's Ashraf El Karugui, appointed by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), came in for a while. He was stationed in Chennai at the Indian Squash Academy where he had a role in training young talents. Seeing the sentiments of the seniors, the Federation did set a plan in motion of wider utilisation of him and accordingly Ashraf El Karugui at times accompanied the players to major events. But before this system could get concretised, he left India. Rather than seek a fresh replacement, The Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI) came up with the initiative of supporting the players with government funds for various PSA World Tour events and also advanced coaching stints with renowned international coaches like David Palmer, Amir Wagih, Malcolm Wilstroff, and Hadrian Stiff.
While the underlining idea has been to ensure India's presence with performances in major squash programmes, there has also been a serious effort to open up the country to more tournaments of various kinds. The fresh PSA events in Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai as also junior camps have had its salutary effects if one considered the improvements the second rung players have made in their rankings. Players like Vikram Malhotra, Velavan Senthilkumar, Harinder Pal Sandhu, Abhishek Agarwal, Sunayna Kuruvilla, Tanvi Khanna to name a few have all improved in their rankings. Not just that, in the last two years there has been an increase in Indian players in the professional circuit. In fact as of December 2019, India have 54 players who have world rankings and that places them third behind Egypt (133) and England (123). Interestingly major squash playing countries like Australia (49) and USA (48) are behind India. This may not stop here. The Federation has plans for more PSA tournaments in the coming year and this is where the tie-up with HCL and its podium programme is slowly proving a game changer.