Planning pays

On top... Mohammed Azlan Iskander and Nicol David with the trophies.-

Malaysia’s domination at the Asian Championship in Kuwait was complete, as it swept all the titles at stake. S. R. Suryanarayan reports.

In Malaysia, squash is reaping the benefits of a structured planning. The recent Asian Championship in Kuwait was yet another indication that Malaysia is now the undisputed leader in this sport in the continent, displacing Pakistan which once had players who went on to become legends. This big swing in Malaysia’s fortunes has been attributed to the nation’s planned development of the sport. India too has taken up such planning in all seriousness although it is still early to reap the benefits.

The Asian Championship, however, proved that India has the talent with potential to make it big. True, India won just one medal, a bronze by Joshna Chinappa in the women’s singles, and finished fourth in the men’s team event and fifth in the women’s section. But all this did not quite reflect the quality of India’s showing, say for instance Saurav Ghosal’s performance in general or the promise shown by Anwesha Reddy.

For long Joshna has been India’s one big bet in the international arena, especially after her huge success as a junior. She was the runner-up at the World Championship and won the British Junior Open Under-19 title – both great achievements. As a senior, Joshna’s career has not moved in the same way, but she is still a force to reckon with.

In fact, had it not been for a touch of impulsiveness, Joshna could have done better in Kuwait. In the semifinal against Rebecca Chiu of Hong Kong, seeded No. 2, Joshna gave up midway through the match, complaining of a slippery centre court.

There was a problem with the court all right, but observers felt that Joshna should have sought the opinion of her opponent and even made a point to the referee. “Perhaps the matter would have come to the Tournament Referee and a change of court could have been an alternative,” said Maj. S. Maniam, Consultant Coach of SRFI and ASF’s Director of Coaching. Maniam himself was taken aback when, after losing the first game, Joshna indicated to him that she did not want to continue with the match. Her decision even surprised her opponent Rebecca.

Not that Rebecca was an easy opponent, but sometimes unexpected things do happen in sports and even the slightest leeway can make the difference between victory and defeat. Malaysia’s Ong Beng Lee realised this the hard way. Chasing his fifth men’s singles title, Ong fell at the threshold, losing to his countryman Mohammad Azlan Iskander. With Ong up by two games and leading in the third, none in the small crowd gave Azlan any chance of winning. But the gritty Azlan took over even as the players were struggling to prevent sweat dripping onto the floor. The match took a dramatic turn as Ong gradually sank and Azlan rose to claim his maiden title.

There were no such hiccups though for another Malaysian, Nicol David, the current World No. 1, in the women’s section, as she went on to bag her sixth Asian title. Nicol has never been beaten by an Asian in recent times, and in Kuwait, Rebecca had no pretensions of stopping her.

What is remarkable about Nicol is her humility despite her high standing in the game. “I consider each tournament a challenge and each match a learning experience,” she told Sportstar.

While Malaysia’s domination went unchecked — it bagged all the top honours, including the team championships – Kuwait caused a ripple by ousting Pakistan to enter the men’s team final for the first time.

Pakistan arrived for the Asian Championship without some of its top players – they were not in the team as they failed to attend the trials — but that did not take away the sheen off Kuwait’s splendid showing.

The man who inspired the host was the short but skilful Abdullah Kh Al-Mezeyen. The stylish left-hander was sure of his touches, particularly the acute-angled forehand drops which he executed with great felicity. The squash world is bound to hear more about Abdullah in the days to come.

THE RESULTS Open event

Men’s final: Mohammed Azlan Iskander (Malaysia) bt Ong Beng Hee (Malaysia) 5-9, 8-10, 9-5, 9-0, 9-7.

Women’s final: Nicol David (Malaysia) bt Rebecca Chiu (Hong Kong) 9-5, 9-2, 9-2.

Team championship Men’s final: Malaysia bt Kuwait 2-1. Women’s final: Malaysia bt Hong Kong 2-1. * * * Iraq back in the fold

The Asian Championship was also the occasion for the Asian Squash Federation to have its annual meeting in Kuwait. President N. Ramachandran and Secretary-General Srivatsan Subramaniam from India attended the meeting.

Among the key decisions of the AGM were re-admitting Iraq as a full member after it produced a letter from the Olympic Council of Asia and the launch, in principle, of three new events – Asian Masters, Asia Cup and the Asian Doubles Championship. The exact venues and dates would be known in the next two months. The AGM also decided to nominate Maj. S. Maniam, currently SRFI’s consultant coach, as Technical Delegate for the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010.