Squash scales new heights



SQUASH N. Ramachandran, president of the World Squash Federation, has many plans for the future of the sport in the country and at the international level

Ten years may be a short period in history but, for the Indian Squash Academy (the erstwhile ICL Academy), it has been a defining decade. Not only did it help transform the sport, but, in a short time, the facility also helped raise the stature of players from state and national level to international stars. But that is what systematic training and professional management can do to develop talent.

Till the late 1990s, Chennai (Tamil Nadu) never quite made an impression at the national level. The atmosphere was far from conducive for squash players to come up; even participation was not without hardship — aspects that were to work on the mind of N. Ramachandran, former executive director, India Cements and, at present, chairman, Result's Estates.

Love for squash

Ramachandran's love for squash dates back to the 1960s, when as a lad he played tennis just for the sake of physical fitness. “I did not like the weight of the tennis racquet. I found the squash racquet lighter and liked it,” he said, recalling how he switched from tennis to squash. Those days, squash used to be a popular diversion — both for fitness and recreation — at the MCC (Ramachandran was an enthusiastic member).

Years later, with his growing involvement in squash administration, he realised the role of the Tamil Nadu Squash Rackets Association in reorganising the sport. To his luck and, perhaps the sport too, Ramachandran rose to be the Secretary-General of the Squash Rackets Federation of India. “In 1995, the incumbent Sanjay Hazare had to leave for a two-year period overseas and K.C. Mehra, who was the president wanted me to take charge,” he said. It was also around this time the TNSRA approached the government for a piece of land to launch an academy, because, as he put it, “We realised the need for a facility where players could not only be trained but given the expertise to excel.”

Ramachandran converted the academy, which was formally launched in 2000, to the best of its kind in the country. “It was a question of getting the government involved. There is a provision for sharing the cost and that is what we aimed at. The land came, a compound wall was raised and three ASB courts were laid. Later, five more courts were added,” he said about the project's implementation.

Goals achieved

The arrival of Maj (retd) S. Maniam, the man who put Malaysian squash on the road to prosperity, as consultant and the induction of Cyrus Poncha (current national coach) as chief coach ensured “systematic coaching and development”, the goals of the Academy. The results began to show in a few years. Joshna Chinappa finished world junior runner-up, and won the British junior open title; Saurav Goshal too won at the British junior Open and capped it with a bronze medal in the Doha Asian Games; Dipika Pallikal tasted success in the British junior Open; Saurav and Ritwik Bhattacharya finished runner-up in the world doubles championship... the list grew. The Academy also became the venue for some top grade Asian and world level tournaments and championships and that meant participation of virtually the ‘who's who' in the world of squash, including world champions Amr Shabana and Nicol David.

Government support has matched the progress of the sport. “Funding for tournaments as well as for players' participation in various tournaments abroad has been substantial, especially with the Commonwealth Games just a few months away,” said Ramachandran, currently patron, SRFI.

It has been a decade of glory for squash, courtesy the ISA, and Ramachandran, now president of the World Squash Federation, fervently hopes, “Indian players should be ranked among the top ten in the world in the next five years.”


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