Tamil Nadu dominates

THE launch of the ICL Academy in Chennai has been the best thing to have happened for squash in India.

S. R. SURYANARAYAN

The Tamil Nadu men and women teams that won the Inter-state championship. — Pic. VINO JOHN-

THE launch of the ICL Academy in Chennai has been the best thing to have happened for squash in India. From a club preserve, squash today is a vibrant sport and with the structured training being given there under Maj. S. Maniam, the Consultant Coach from Malaysia and the National Coach Cyrus Poncha, results have begun to show at the international level. Names like Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa are right there at the top at the Asian level and they happen to be the prized trainees at the Chennai Academy.

With regular tournaments held and international events hosted, squash has brought in a new awareness among the young talents. There is a special coaching programme on for school students and the enthusiasm among the young children has to be seen to be appreciated. In this scenario it should be little surprise that squash should undergo a change of order and open the doors for youngsters to rule. The latest senior national championship provided the perfect forum for the youth to take over. We have two 18-year-olds now as senior national champions — Saurav and Joshna. The latter's achievement was nothing new for the latest edition provided her the easiest picking among the four titles she has collected so far, beating 14-year-old Anvesha Reddy.

The highlight however was Saurav's triumph over the defending champion Ritwik Bhattacharya. Many had foreseen this to happen but few were willing to believe that it would come in the current edition. Saurav had never beaten his senior rival before in any tournament and so when the moment came, it was both historic and emphatic. True Ritwik had his own problems, in particular the effects of a lay off after a knee surgery.

The reigning champion was not at his competitive best. Known for his power-packed shots and ballet-dancer like movements on the court, Ritwik quickly found himself struggling for composure. All this is not to belittle Saurav's achievement. For here is a lad, still child-like in his enthusiasm and immensely ambitious, willing to keep learning. Each match taught him something new and being the best equipped player from the Academy, Saurav had an advantage.

To say that Saurav left Ritwik a wreck in the end will be no exaggeration. Struggling for breath and fast draining stamina, Ritwik presented a helpless sight as the contest wore on. Saurav is known for his penchant for pacy games and that only hastened Ritwik's exit.

Ritwik Bhattacharya (right) battling it out with the eventual champion Saurav Ghosal in the men's singles final. — Pic. VINO JOHN-

Joshna, in comparison had an easy time. That she is a cut above the rest is a well known fact. Today this champion player is starved of competition on the distaff side. A Vaidehi Reddy or Mekhala Subedar could have pushed her around but with the latter not making an appearance, having married only recently and the former based in the U.S pursuing studies, Joshna had to make do with rivals several years younger to her. V. Anvesha Reddy is just 14 years, the age when Joshna had won her first senior national title. But Anvesha, an under-17 national champion, just did not have the wherewithal to trouble Joshna. "Collecting titles" that is what Joshna will keep doing until someone arrives to challenge her in the true sense.

However, going by the way talents like Anvesha Reddy, Surbhi Misra and Dipika Pallikal have been coming up, the day may not be far when competition on the distaff side will get stronger. A sample of what can be expected came from the Surbhi-Anvesha match in the semi-final. The Rajasthan girl, who had beaten Dipika in the recent junior national championship in Ajmer for the under-15 title, tried to hustle the Chennai school girl with show and cries of aggression. To some extent, Anvesha looked overawed as the contest stretched to five games but she never let the grip go.

With two youngsters ruling the senior ranks things augur well for Indian squash. What is also encouraging is the way the talent from the south in particular have begun to perform. Anvesha, Dipika and Harita Omprakash, who won the under-13 national title at Ajmer are bound to be the stars of tomorrow. Not only are they willing learners but also dedicated trainees of the ICL Academy.

Thankfully for them, their schools have begun to realise their growing stature and provide them with exemptions. Thus it has not affected their academics. Harita for instance is a class topper, prides her mother, who said that the girl had excelled in karate before switching to tennis and then to squash. The change to squash has been the best that has happened to her child, the ex-Army official's wife felt.

As long as these young talents blossom and serve the state and the country everything will be fine but, as the Secretary General of the Squash Rackets Federation of India, N. Ramachandran laments, the problems arise when squash becomes the passport for these children to go abroad in due course for good. "Of course nobody can stop anyone from going out of the national squash scene but the worry is it shakes up the national team preparation," he said while stressing that the TNSRA and SRFI would be scouting for more and more talent from the lower strata of society. "Talent like A. Parthiban will serve the state and country for a long time," he said.

The youngsters who showed a lot of promise, from left, Harita Omprakash, Dipika Pallikal and Anvesha Reddy. -- Pic. VINO JOHN-

Be that as it may, the Chennai edition will remain a special chapter in the annals of Tamil Nadu squash for the state grabbed all the three titles at stake — men's, women's and professionals. What is more even in the inter-state competition that followed Tamil Nadu ruled supreme in both the men's and women's sections. A big change was the removal from the scene of Maharashtra, once the base of squash in India. Proof of the emerging change in equations came when Tamil Nadu helped itself to a double winning both the men's and women's titles. Again the interest was only in the men's side with Saurav spearheaded Tamil Nadu taking on Ritwik Bhattacharya inspired New Delhi. As it happened the contest boiled down to Saurav and Ritwik and in hindsight, a repeat of their earlier meeting. Saurav emerged winner to reaffirm his new stature. The women's section was an all-Tamil Nadu affair with the `A' team beating the `B' team. Interestingly the `A' team was given a bright start by Harita.

Preceding the senior nationals this time was the first ever national doubles championship. With the world doubles championship in mind, the SRFI wanted this championship to serve as a warm up for some of the potential Indian pairs like Saurav and Ritwik Bhattcharya as also Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal. Ritwik however did not take part, preferring the national championship. Saurav thus partnered another young promising talent, Harinder Pal Singh, who changed his base from Punjab to Chennai to hone his squash skills.

Here again the focus was on Tamil Nadu in the final phase. With the men's finals becoming an all-Tamil Nadu affair, one had thought the competition would dip. On the contrary, Saurav and Harinder had to quell the challenge of Bala Murugan and A. Parthiban and it took five games to achieve victory. Equally challenging were Surabhi Misra and Shivangi Paranjpe for Joshna and Dipika. The Tamil Nadu girls won but on extended points in two games in the 3-0 win.

The results Finals:

Senior national: Open events: Men's singles: Saurav Ghosal (TN) bt Ritwik Bhattacharya (New Delhi) 9-4, 6-9, 9-7, 9-2; Women's singles: Joshna Chinappa (TN) bt V. Anvesha Reddy (TN) 9-3, 9-0, 9-2; Professionals: Bala Murugan (TN) bt Mahesh Verma (Mah) 9-5, 9-3, 9-0.

Inter-state competition: Men: Tamil Nadu beat New Delhi 3-2; Women: Tamil Nadu `A' beat `B' 3-0.

National doubles: Men: Saurav Ghosal and Harinderpal Singh bt Bala Murugan and A. Parthiban 9-2, 4-9, 9-4, 4-9, 9-8; Women: Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal (TN) bt Surabhi Misra (Raj) and Shivangi Paranjpe (Mah) 11-10, 9-3, 11-10.