Golden performances in the Commonwealth and Asian Games are just the start for Indian stars
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
In the earlier part of the year, Dipika Pallikal said that 2014 was a bad year for them Asians, referring to the fact that the girls would have to play two world championships, the Women’s World Teams, the Asian Teams, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
However, the year has so far been pretty awesome for her and the entire Indian team, especially at the multi-sport events, which are perhaps the most important to the governments in the East.
In August, Dipika teamed up with Joshna Chinappa to win India’s first squash medal at the Games, a gold, when the pair upset the odds to beat Laura Massaro and Jenny Duncalf in the final. The feat had also saved their team mate Mahesh Mangaonkar from the blushes, as he had vowed to strip naked if India failed to win a medal at the games.
There was more joy for the Indian camp at the more recent Asian Games when both the men’s and ladies reached the final of the team event. While the Nicol David led Malaysia was too strong for the ladies, the men clinched gold with a hard fought victory over the Malaysian men.
The photo that circulated over social media of Indian number one Saurav Ghosal celebrating after clinching the winning point had surely caught the attention of many. There was so much soul and passion in his eyes, and the sight of his team-mates rushing through the door is a great testament to the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
The win also somewhat signals the arrival of the Indian men as powerhouses at the Asian stage. The quartet of Saurav Ghosal, Mahesh Mangaokar, Harinder Pal Sandhu and Kush Kumar made history as the men’s team had never won an event before. Apart from Saurav, the others are all aged 25 and below, so there’s many more years left in this team.
Malaysian veteran, Ong Beng Hee, who retired from multi-sport events after losing to Saurav itn the team final, added, “India will have the same team in the next Asian Games. They will probably be stronger too, so we have quite a bit of catching up to do.”
SquashMad caught up with Saurav Ghosal in between his tournaments at US and Macau Opens to talk about the Asian Games and the Indian squash scene.
There is a very passionate photo of you after winning the Asian Games team event, which you tweeted “This picture epitomes everything this gold medal means to us all”. Care to tell us more about it?
To truly understand the magnitude of our victory in the team event, one has to look at India’s record. A lot of people may not know this, but the Indian men’s team has never won a team event in its history. We have come very close over the last decade but fell agonisingly short on numerous occasions. So, to do it on the biggest stage of all, the Asian Games, is huge. All the losses and heartbreak from the past can be forgotten now.
Personally for me, it was a little bit of redemption too. It was heart breaking for me not to win the individual gold, especially after being 2-0 and match-ball up. I had worked extremely hard for it and felt I was playing well enough through the week. It’s possibly the hardest defeat of my career and I was extremely sad.
The thing that got me going again was the fact that I knew I had to play well in the teams; not for myself, but for Harinder, Mahesh and Kush. I knew they had all worked hard to firstly, be at the Asian Games and secondly, to put us in a position to win the event. So, I kept telling myself to push for them. I remember telling myself ‘push for them’ after almost every point in the fifth game against (Ong) Beng Hee.
So what happened then in the individual final? Being 2-0 and match ball up. What do you take from the loss?
I think I played well from the first right to the very last point. However, as fate would have it, I didn’t end up winning. Unfortunately for me, Abdullah Al Mezayen (of Kuwait) came up with a very, very special performance on the day.
I don’t think either of us deserved to lose that day. But in sport, one has to lose and one has to win. I think losing that match will always hurt me, there is absolutely no doubt about that. However, I’m going to try and use the loss to make myself stronger and push harder to achieve the goals I have set for myself.
With Dipika and Joshnna striking gold in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games and the men winning at the Asian Games, this must be a great year for Indian squash. So was all this part of the plan?
We have all known for a while that 2014 would be a big year for us. We have all worked super hard to make all this possible. The plan was to do even better than what we have done, but we must be happy with what we have achieved.
The success this year is unprecedented in Indian squash. In my opinion, the current generation of players in India is the best we have ever had. All of us are very ambitious, talented and are willing to work hard to achieve our goals. We all want to create history and it doesn’t stop here. There is more to come.
Do you feel that the achievements of yourselves will further drive the sport in India?
I certainly hope so. As players, it is our responsibility to win medals for the country and fascinate the common men. We are doing just that now. I hope more people get into the sport and help take squash to the next level in India.
We’ve also seen a lot happening in India lately. First, it was Ritwik Bhattacharya’s appointment as PSA’s South East Asia Representative, which I believe, has now expanded beyond that. Then most recently, the launch of the JSW Indian Squash Circuit. How satisfying are these things to you personally?
Ritwik is doing some great work already. The JSW Indian Squash Circuit is fantastic for the game in India and is part of its evolution. I remember when I was starting out on the PSA, I had to wait for up to four months to even get into qualifying for a tournament.
The JSW Circuit will help junior players a great deal to make the transition into the professional ranks. More tournaments in India can only be a good thing. I’m hopeful that we will have some bigger events as well in the near future. I know Ritwik is working on that.
There were very positive comments on TV coverage at the Commonwealth Games. However, the same wasn’t the case at the Asian Games. How supportive is the media in India?
It was disappointing to not have live TV coverage on the Asian Games in India. However, I have to say the Indian press and media were fantastic throughout the Asian Games, and continue to do so even after the event.
I believe squash is getting some much needed attention and I really hope it helps take the game to the masses in India.
Speaking of taking the game to masses, squash was pretty out of reach to the regular folks in India at one time. It was only reachable to the wealthy in private clubs or families of the armed forces. How has that changed these days?
The general public does have more access to squash courts around the country nowadays. Thanks to a lot of Junior Programmes in different cities, it is also more accessible to children. However, a lot more can be done and I believe getting squash into schools will be the next step and could help squash explode in India.
Ed: On World Squash Day last month, a junior programme was launched in New Delhi, providing free squash coaching to the underprivileged and homeless children.
Pictures from the Squash Mad archive