Pallikal pulls out as National Squash C'ship gets underway in Noida

The women's defending champion Dipika Pallikal Karthik withdrew owing to an ankle injury.

Saurav Ghosal and Joshana Chinappa, bristling with confidence on the eve of the national championship, after having won 25 national crowns between them.   -  Special Arrangement

Between them, Joshana Chinappa and Saurav Ghosal have won the national championship 25 times, but that has only increased their enthusiasm to go for more, as the HCL 74th National Squash championship unfolds at the Shiv Nadar University here on Wednesday.

Defending champion Saurav said that it was his responsibility to compete in the national championship and give the chance for the rest, especially the juniors, to compete in a full field.

‘’When Harinder Pal Singh won the title in 2014, it was a big deal’’, said Saurav, who had first won the national title ten years earlier. Only Ritwik Bhattacharya could stop him apart from Harinder Pal Singh since 2004. Last year Saurav beat Harinder Pal 14-12 in the last game of the five-game thriller.

Joshana on the other hand was beaten by Dipika Pallikal Karthik in last year’s final after winning the first game. However, the women's defending champion Dipika Pallikal Karthik withdrew owing to an ankle injury.

‘’The prize money does not matter to me. I don’t look at it to play an event. Ever since I started playing the national championships at the age of 12, I had always wanted to come back. I am not able to play more domestic events these days, because of hectic international schedule’’, said Joshana.

She has been winning the national title since 2000 and only Mekhala Subedar apart from Dipika has been able to deny her the title since then.

‘’I have competed all these years and missed only 2011 when I was injured’’, recalled Joshana.

Of course, Bhuvaneshwari Kumari had won the women’s title for 16 years on the trot from 1976.

In a press conference, both Joshana and Saurav handled the questions with poise and grace, especially the tricky one about equal prize money for men and women in the national championship.

Even though there was disparity, in terms of entries, with 312 men and 65 women, Saurav said that the global trend was towards equality and hoped that it would inspire more girls to emulate Joshana and Dipika.

The two were all praise for the Egyptian coach Ashraf El Karargi who has been able to help everyone get better results in about a year, which has already won him an extended two-year contract.

‘’Everyone has been getting good results. I made the Asian Championship final for the first time. The juniors have shown better results. We had 1-2-3 in the British Championship for the first time. Even, Egypt has never done that. Earlier, I was the only one to have won it’’, said Saurav, as he praised the coach. He was confident that India would be able to better its record in the Commonwealth and Asian Games next year.

Assessing the progress of the sport over the last 10 years, and digesting the disappointment of not making it to the Tokyo Olympics, but hoping that it would enter as a medal sport in the 2024 Olympics, possibly in Paris, Saurav said that the pace of the game had gone ‘’ridiculously high’’.

He said that the top-50 players were ‘’physical beasts’’ and the top 4-5 players were ‘’physical ultimate beasts’’.

Saurav particularly credited former world No.1 Ramy Ashour for ‘’re-engineering’’ the game to take the monotony out of it and making it exciting with the fore-court play.

The Chief Strategy Officer of HCL Corporation and Shiv Nadar Foundation, Sundar Mahalingam, said that the organisation was happy to support a game like squash, after starting the association with a junior championship last December.

‘’We are seeing what we can do to build the sport. We will do more in the future’’, said Sundar, even as the two leading players hoped that HCL would go ahead and do the professional events which had been held in the country a few years back.

While the top eight men will get into a knock-out draw of 16 with eight qualifiers who will emerge after a series of matches from among 300 players, the women will have a straight knock-out format.

There will also be other events for men in various age groups and professional coaches as well.

With the host providing a world class facility, it will be up to the players to show their class, and try to finish ahead of the top three Saurav Ghosal, Joshana Chinappa, Harinder Pal Singh Sidhu.