Saurav Ghosal must rank among the pantheon of Indian sportspersons. He’s a serious practitioner of a sport he plays like a mean machine. On Sunday evening at the Otters Club, Bandra, he riveted attention on him with a colossal display that gave a record 11th national men’s title winning the 73rd senior national championship against a determined Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu in a five game thriller. The record stood for 60 years.
The 29-year-old, born and raised in Kolkata, and trained at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai, Ghosal chose the sport of squash that is generally played in up market clubs in cities. The sport threw many winners from Bombay, Delhi and the Services and blessed Indian squash with some great names like R.K.Narpat Singh, who won the national title ten times without a break from 1946.
But the present generation cannot be blamed if they take a prejudiced view that the kid from Bengal has risen above all. He won the senior national title for the first time in 2004 and thereafter gave importance to the title winning it nine times more before leaving R.K.Narpat Singh to the second position with a 11th win.
For all his show of individual brilliance on Sunday, Ghosal was so uncertain of his ability to regain good health and play competitive squash after his second round exit against Egyptian Marwan Elshorbagy in the second round of the British Open last March. An ankle injury nearly crippled his career.
"It’s the most serious injury I have ever had. I had to pull out of the Asian championship as well. I went to England, took injections on the bone which was painful. The surgeons were very optimistic," said Ghosal. "I was not sure, a month back, as to when I would be able to come back and play pain free. I don’t think I played the best I could against Vikram Malhotra; he was superb and unbelievable. I just dug it out from the hole."
Ghosal attributed his return to rehab and hard training. "It was three and half months of no match. I have been training hard for six to eight weeks, but you cannot replicate match sharpness with training. There was a lot of pace and length changes from me today and I knew what I was doing with the ball. I was under pressure today. I tried a lot; some came off and some did not. But at least I had the courage to do it and I found a way to get it done. I am happy about it and actually I am ecstatic that I did it.’’
Ghosal was given a scare by the US-based Vikram Malhotra in the semifinals. And Sandhu upped his game in the final. "The way I played today, I would have been good enough to beat a lot of top 20 guys and may be a few top 10 guys. At no point in time, I would say I was dominating him (Sandhu). He got to the winning end of many rallies. But I felt I was hitting the ball well. I was changing the pace around, using the height on the wall which is not easy to do on a bouncy hard traditional court, against someone of his capabilities and racquet skill."
Ghosal said he’s proud of winning the title a record 11th time. "To win once is hard. I did not win the junior title till I was 15. I lost three before winning it at the fourth attempt. Then I was lucky enough to win three under-19s. Growing in the sport it was just about being a national champion. The record is there. It’s mine now. I am extremely proud."
The 11-time winner further said, "For me it’s really to take squash forward and reach the top five; that will be much more than 20 national titles. I hope myself and anyone around me can do that. We already have the strongest team ever, men and women. This is the golden period of Indian squash.’’