Indian squash now really juicy!

Simply Squashing!The Indian men's team with the gold and the women with the silver.-PTI

Long years of training in squash are finally paying off for India. By Stan Rayan.

“Easy now, guys. Don’t squish me and kill me,” wrote Saurav Ghosal on his Twitter handle with a very happy picture of his teammates piling upon him after India won the men’s team squash gold at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon.

“Twenty years of hard work all made worthwhile by this one precious moment…the moment we won the gold,” another tweet, which had a picture of the India number one running with his hand pumped up after the triumph, said.

Just a couple of days before that, Ghosal, his face cupped in his hands, was a picture of dejection after stunningly losing the men’s singles final to Kuwait’s Abdullah Al Muzayen in a match he should have won easily.

For India, even that sad picture was an image of victory. For a country which had been only seeing bronze against its name at the Asian Games for long, it marked an amazing, joyful jump. One which ended with India taking the men’s team gold, men’s singles silver, women’s team silver and women’s team bronze.

Before Incheon, India had won just four bronze medals in squash since the sport made its Asian Games debut at the 1998 Games in Bangkok. That just sums up squash’s big leap. And with Olympic medalist Yogeshwar Dutt bringing a gold in wrestling, ending a 28-year wait, after the male archers Rajat Chauhan, Sandeep Kumar and Abhishek Verma triumphed in compound archery, an event which was making its Asian Games debut, India also made a very happy jump in the medals table.

But India and Ghosal had to sweat for its big day in squash at the Incheon Games when it won its maiden gold.

YOGESHWAR DUTT... a sterling show.-PTI

After Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu won the opening men’s singles in the team final against Malaysia, Ghosal was forced to slog in the second singles against Malaysian Beng Ong Hee, a former World No. 7 and two-time Asian Games singles champion.

That match reminded Ghosal, the World No. 16, a lot of the men’s singles final where he slipped at the doorstep of victory against Al Muzayen, ranked 46th in the world.

“I was actually reminded of that final when I dropped a match ball in the fourth. I had a similar situation in that final when I dropped the chance at exactly the same point (12-11) in the third game,” said Ghosal.

“I made an error and that day Abdullah hit a winner and it went down to the wire, but in the end I was determined to put an end to all the sleepless nights and give everything I had for my teammates. It’s very special as we have come close many times. Today we won and it’s fantastic.”

Ghosal had suffered an Achilles problem during the recent Hong Kong Open and he was worried that it would trouble him again at Incheon.

“This is a huge win for us, I’m so happy that I could win it for the team. My Achilles (tendon) was injured during the Hong Kong Open, but luckily it held for the entire duration of the tournament,” he said.

SPLENDID TEAM WORK... compound archers Rajat Chauhan, Abhishek Verma and Sandeep Kumar.-PTI

Dipika Pallikal, who had won the women’s singles bronze earlier in a thriller against Joshna Chinappa, and Anaka Alankamony both took a game off their higher-ranked rivals, World No. 1 Nicol David and Odette Delia Arnold, during their 0-2 loss to Malaysia in the women’s team final.

These also offered an indication of the progress made by our women after Pallikal and Chinappa, a multiple national champion, had won the women’s doubles gold at the recent Commonwealth Games.

“It’s great to see the Indian men and women breaking through, especially in the Asian Games,” said Malaysian Nicol David, a multiple world champion who has been the face of women’s squash for the last few years. “And once squash comes to the Olympics, we will see even more nations coming forward.”

So, how does she rate the Indian girls, especially Pallikal, the country’s highest-ranked player?

“Dipika is not in the world’s top 10 all of a sudden. She has been there for a while and she has proved herself time and again by beating all the top players in previous events and showing that she is there, and also Joshna, and pushing the others,” said the Malaysian.

Chennai is now virtually the headquarters of squash in the country and the Indian Squash Academy, the brainchild of World Squash Federation and IOA President N. Ramachandran, has played a big role in India’s impressive rise in the sport. Almost all the country’s top players have or have had their early grooming there.

“This is not an overnight job. It takes a lot of things to come together, it takes eight to nine years,” said Ghosal about India’s progress. “With regards to the Indian Squash Academy (in Chennai), I think it’s one of a kind in India, it has helped the juniors, when I was a junior as well, for three years between 15 and 18.”

Ghosal has trained under Malcolm Willstrop in England for almost eight years, while Pallikal has had some very valuable lessons from Sarah Fitzgerald, a former five-time World champion, in Australia.

All these have helped India write some happy chapters in the sport. And with squash trying its best to get into the Olympics, the future looks very interesting indeed.

chennai is virtually the headquarters of squash in the country and the Indian Squash Academy has played a big role in India’s impressive rise in the sport. Almost all the country’s top players have or have had their early grooming there.