Friday, January 22, 2010

Preparations are on to put together Team India for the Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games is less than nine months away. Whatever may be the level of preparedness on the organisational front, there is clearly no sign of relaxation on the part of the players. In keeping with its structured programme, which had helped the players win recognition at the international level, the Squash Federation of India has started its initial trials involving the cream and those on the threshold of fame with a step-by-step approach. The aim is to build a compact team for the Games.

Will medals be ours?

There are five gold medals at stake for squash in the Games — men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles and mixed doubles. Can India bring home a Commonwealth medal in squash? These are early days yet, said Maj S. Maniam, Consultant Coach from Malaysia. He is the man who has scripted the upward journey of Indian squash over the last decade. “It is a tough task because there are so many players much higher in ranking than the best Indian players,” he said. But, he added, that nothing is impossible. “Did not Ritwik Bhattacharya and Saurav Ghosal spring a surprise by making it to the final of the World doubles right here six years ago?”

One of the distinctions that Indian squash has accomplished over the last few years is winning a medal in the Asian Games (Doha in 2006), courtesy Saurav Ghosal who bagged a bronze. But, the Commonwealth Games is tougher. In fact, some of the best squash players, outside of Egypt, are from the Commonwealth countries such as Australia, England, Malaysia and Pakistan. The pressure will be high on top players such as Saurav and Joshna Chinappa. “We expect them to cause a few upsets,” said Maj Maniam. He expected Saurav and Joshna to improve their world ranking which would enable them to be part of a comparatively easy draw. This would raise hopes of their bringing home a medal. Maj Maniam believed there are better chances in the doubles because this is an area where competitions the world over are comparatively few. National coach Cyrus Poncha said, “The trials are just an initial exercise for the key players such as Saurav, Ritwik, Siddarth Suchde, Sandeep and Vikas Jangra, Gaurav Nandrajog, Joshna, Dipika Pallikal, Surbhi Mishra, Anwesha, Aparajitha, Saumya Karki and Anaka. The tournaments ahead — the Chennai Open, a doubles tournament in Manchester, the Asian senior championship in Delhi (at the Games venue) — will be considered further tests. There will be more competitions after this which will help us decide the best five men and women players who would form the Indian squad.”

Besides these, professionals like Saurav (ranked 29) and Joshna (ranked 34) have their own plans to play in the PSA and WISPA circuits. “Get into the top 20” is the aim of these two but the task, they admit, is arduous.

Nonetheless, the Indian players are confident. As the Leeds-based Saurav, an experienced pro now, who trains under Malcolm Willstrop put it, “Even in a tough PSA circuit, I have always played with confidence and never allowed pressure to baulk me. I am currently playing some of the best squash of my career and have stretched several top-ten players. I am looking forward to do better this season especially in “the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games that follows.”

Poncha said the early start to the preparations was possible thanks to the Union Sports Ministry which has funded the entire programme as part of its exercise to help the various Federations prepare strong teams for the Games.

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