Malaysia's top player Delia Arnold's visit not only lightened up the ISA Junior Open, but also provided the key information that her country's two leading players Nicol David, a former world number one and Low Wee Wern will not be there at the Asian team squash championship scheduled in Chinese Taipei from May 11 to 15. Delia, ranked 15 in the world will be Malaysia's flag bearer with talented juniors to support her.
This explained the seedings where India has been placed above Malaysia as number two. For Indian women this is good news in the sense that since India is clubbed with Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka in one group, the team could aspire for topping the group league, something that is required to avoid top seed Hong Kong in the criss-cross semifinal.
On paper all this looked fine, said national coach Cyrus Poncha on the eve of the team's departure.
“True Nicol in particular will not be there. But the test will be for Joshna against Delia (more than Dipika against their number two) as also our number three which could be Sachika or Akanksha against the Malaysian juniors who can be tough. Malaysia has a good depth at the junior level,” he said.
However having said that, he continued, it was not beyond India to put it across Malaysia. There was good chance then for India to come to the title-round and maybe even win the championship, added Poncha on an optimistic note. The women had finished with a bronze in Hong Kong last time.
It is doubtful if the same positive note is there in the men's section where India is seeded four in a field of 14 participants and clubbed alongwith Philippines, Japan and Macao. Hong Kong, Pakistan and Malaysia are the three top seeds in that order.
For a start, India is without its spearhead Saurav Ghosal, who pulled out on medical advice with an ankle injury that needs time for healing while the next highest ranked player Mahesh Mangaonkar preferred to play PSA events for improving his rankings to national duty. The responsibility then is on Harinder Pal Sandhu and Kush Kumar in the main with support from number three player, which could be Vijaykumar Meena or the bright young promise, Velavan Senthilkumar.
Harinder has not played any competitive match since his hamstring injury in the South Asian Games in February. But he has had rigorous training sessions and seemed in the right frame of mind. The setting is perfect for him and Kush to write an inspiring chapter. Poncha believes the two have in them to deliver. Harinder's sterling display in Incheon Asian Games that set the path to the gold medal triumph is well known and that is an assuring thought.
The national coach can depend on the lefty Velavan too in crunch matches considering the way he has been rising in stature. He has just won the ISA junior Open.
On paper, India could top its Group and for a semifinal spot play Korea ,a team which cannot be taken lightly.
“Teams like Korea and Japan have players who are great runners. They do not give in easily,” Poncha said.
Last time India had won a bronze. The first look out is to ensure India reaches there again.
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