A new dawn

Historic... the Indian women's team that won the Asian Squash Championship for the first time. Top (from left): Aparajitha Balamurukan, Anaka Alankamony, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal.-Historic... the Indian women's team that won the Asian Squash Championship for the first time. Top (from left): Aparajitha Balamurukan, Anaka Alankamony, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal.

For the first time in the three decades of the Asian Championship, India emerged champion in the women's section. Over to S. R. Suryanarayan.

The Secretary-General of the Squash Rackets Federation of India, Srivatsan Subramaniam, is not one given to emotions. A businessman, he knows what it takes to achieve targets and how it feels to miss them. So, when he told a small audience at the MCC the other day that India had missed a big opportunity of bagging a golden double by a whisker, he may have been a little low on excitement with regard to the overall performance of India in the Asian Squash Championship.

However, there is no mistaking India's big moment in the championship in Kuwait. For the first time in the three decades of the Asian Championship, India won the women's title. The men's team, with a silver medal, equalled its best showing in Karachi in 1981.

How things have changed for Indian squash! Till the turn of the millennium, squash was never spoken of much in the media simply because it was difficult to view the sport beyond a club event. But things began to change with the launch of the Squash Academy in Chennai in 2000. As the National coach, Cyrus Poncha, put it, “Ever since I shifted to Chennai from Mumbai when the Indian Squash Academy came into being, the sport has been undergoing phenomenal changes.”

Indian squash is now a medal prospect in the Asian Games. Expectations have begun to rise with each success in the continent and the list includes three Asian champions in Ravi Dixit, Dipika Pallikal (2010) and Anaka Alankamony (2011) and two team titles — the Asian junior boys (2011) and the current Asian women's crown.

Srivatsan Subramaniam said that the Academy, a vision of N. Ramachandran, the then President of the SRFI and currently WSF President, is on course to facilitate a world champion from India before long. “This is Mr. Ramachandran's dream and I am happy that the structured training and planned approach that Consultant Maj. S. Maniam introduced has inspired new frontiers of excellence in Indian squash,” he said.

A reflection of this happy state of affairs was provided in Kuwait where India had gone with a definite plan of “doing better than last time.” In 2010, India had finished runner-up in the women's section and third in the men's section. It was a dramatic moment this time as both the men's and women's teams stormed into the final. While the women's team managed to avenge its defeat to Hong Kong in the previous edition, the men's team slipped when a victory seemed possible against Pakistan.

Making rapid strides... ranked No. 14 in the world, Dipika Pallikal's accomplishment in 2012 has been extraordinary-V. GANESAN

Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa, Anaka Alankamony and Aparajitha Balamurukan provided a new dimension to Indian women's squash. As Anaka said at the modest felicitation function organised by the Tamil Nadu Squash Association, “the average age of the four Indians was 20 years.”

The young outfit promises much more in the future as a busy international schedule opens. And of the four, Dipika is the one who has galloped ahead like no other Indian so far. Ranked No. 14 in the world, the petite player's accomplishment in 2012 has been extraordinary. According to her coach and mentor Sarah Fitzerald, a former world champion, this is just the beginning. She said that Dipika has it in her to be the best in the world and time will tell. Joshna, beaten by Dipika in the rankings, is on a comeback trail following a knee surgery. That she has not lost any of her sharpness was evident from the way she took on the plucky Hong Kong player Joey Chan, ranked 30 rungs above her, in the final. Her win paved the way for Dipika to unfold her masterpiece effort against the World No. 7, Annie Au. The Indian has never beaten this Hong Kong champion, and so for Dipika, the victory, which brought India the title, was all the more sweet.

The Indian men's team too had its chance but, as Subramaniam, who witnessed the match, said, “Saurav lost a match (against Pakistan's Farhan Mehboob) he should have won particularly after leading by two games to love, while Siddarth Suchde slipped when victory was within his grasp against Farhan Zaman in a five-game thriller.”

Had one of the Indians won, things could have been closer since Harinder Pal Sandhu is known for his fighting abilities and turning things around in the deciding rubber. However, as it happened, Pakistan, though seeded below top seed India, managed to retain the title.

THE STANDINGS Men

1. Pakistan 2. India 3. Kuwait 4. Malaysia 5. Hong Kong 6. Japan 7. Jordan 8. Korea 9. Iran 10. Singapore 11. Iraq 12. China 13. Sri Lanka 14. Chinese Taipei 15. Palestine

Women

1. India 2. Hong Kong 3. Korea and Malaysia 5. Japan 6. China 7. Sri Lanka 8. Iran