At 10-8 in the 5th game with the gold medal on the line, it would have been natural for most Indians to assume the match was as good as over.
Everyone around the squash centre court on Saturday here did too. Except that no one told Abhay Singh about it. The 25-year-old held his nerves, took off four straight points against Noor Zaman and then let out a huge roar, throwing his racket into the stands as the Indian men’s team reclaimed the Asian Games gold in style, defeating Pakistan 2-1 in the decider of the final match.
“Thank you to everyone for being there. As much as it was quiet and haunting to be down for most of the match, all the shouting and the India cheering just pushed me to go. This one is for all the billion-plus of us -- we come here, forget about ourselves, fighting for our flag. There was a lot of noise when we lost to Pakistan three nights ago, I am pretty sure I won’t hear any of that tonight,” he said after the game.
Moments before, he had struggled to control his tears and show his emotions. The moment allowed him to. India had lost the opening tie 3-0 with Mahesh Mangaokar going down to Nasir Iqbal for the second time in three days, the match was interrupted often but not as ill-tempered as the previous one. Saurav Ghosal got one back with a clinical 3-0 win against Mohd. Asim Khan as everything boiled down to the final match that lasted longer than the previous two combined.
HIGHLIGHTS | INDIA VS PAKISTAN GOLD MEDAL MATCH
Having lost to Noor in the group tie, it was a grudge match for Abhay, but unlike before, he kept a lid on his feelings and hunkered down for the job at hand.
“I will be honest, there was a lot of talk from the other team three nights ago, some of it on social media. I am looking forward to some of that tonight as well. It was no banter, it was one-sided jabs. I have to give a lot of credit to Saurav. He’s been to six Asian Games and he’s been on my case night after night. I am young, I go on social media, checking out who’s saying what. But he said just one thing -- shut the noise. We did that, and there you are,” Abhay beamed.
It was not an easy match at any point. Abhay and Noor stayed level for the most part, never separated by more than a couple of points. The scoreline – 11-7, 9-11, 8-11, 11-9, 12-10 – reflects the same. The 19-year-old Pakistani, excellent in both attack and defence, retrieved everything the Indian threw at him even as Abhay kept the ball in play from every impossible corner of the court. It was a match of the finest margins, and India came out on top. And the man of the moment had no qualms about wearing his heart on his sleeve.
“We were disappointed to lose three nights ago. We are seeded top for a reason, to come and lose to someone seeded 4 is not good. For me to lose to someone who’s 19 and ranked outside the top 100 when I am in the top 70 doesn’t go down well. When you lose on tour, you lose for yourself but when you lose here, you lose for India and that does not feel good. It takes a lot of push and character to come back from that, and credit goes to the team.
“These are the golden boys, they were here in 2014 winning gold, and if I had to be in a good environment, this would be it. I went professional eight years ago, and this is where I wanted to be when I did that. I fight for India, it is in my heart, I do what I do for my country, and nothing makes me prouder than representing India,” Abhay declared.
Ghosal, meanwhile, was more statesmanlike.
“We lost to Pakistan in the group stage, and there is no embarrassment -- they are a fantastic team, they proved it through the entire week and today. But we knew we would have a second chance in the tournament. We knew it would be hard and it was.”
“Last time, both Abhay and Mahesh (Mangaokar) got emotionally charged against Pakistan, and my belief is that that’s not the way to play them. It is to be calm, almost robotic with no emotions -- that’s more powerful than anything you can show to the player, team or the crowd you play against because it doesn’t give them anything to feed off,” he smiled, pride, relief and happiness all together on his face.
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