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Squash was introduced in the South Asian Federation Games (later South Asian Games) in 1989 in Islamabad. This was the fourth edition of the SAF Games. The event was open for men only with team and individual being the competitions. Pakistan’s strength in squash is well known and showed this in this Games by winning the two gold medals at stake.

Then came a huge hiatus before squash made its second appearance in 2004, once again in Pakistan in the ninth edition in Islamabad . This time the event was open to men and women competitors. While Pakistan confirmed its supremacy in the men’s section, India emerged as the top team in women’s with Joshna Chinappa winning the gold and Mekala Subhedar the silver. Pakistan men and Indian women won the gold respectively in the team competition.

In 2006 in Colombo again, Pakistan was to the fore in the men’s section and India took the turn in the women’s. Sri Lanka placed second for silver in women’s section pushing Pakistan to bronze medal. In the individual events Pakistan’s Mansoor Zaman and Aamir Atlas Khan took the gold and silver leaving India’s Gaurav Nandrajog and Harinder Pal Sandhu as losing semi-finalists with the bronze medals. In the women’s section Joshna Chinappa defeated Dipika Pallikal for the gold. Sri Lanka’s Tehani Guruge and Nirasha Guruge were the bronze medalists.

Squash was part of the programme in Dhaka in the next edition in 2010. Only, this edition had no competition for women. Expectedly Pakistan won the gold medals in singles and team events. Aamir Atlas Khan was the winner and Farhan Mehboob the runner up. Indians Sandeep Jangra and Gaurav Nandrajog settled for the bronze. In the team event, Pakistan beat India 2-0 for the gold with Mansoor Zaman beating Ravi Dixit and Aamir Atlas Khan edging out Nandrajog.

The 2016 edition could be a path breaker for Indian squash for expectations of the country taking full honours are high. Even though five countries are in the fray _ India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal _ once again it should boil down to an India-Pakistan affair in both men’s and women’s sections. Such is the gulf between these nations and the rest.

While the Indian women squad, always strong , looks even more so now with two top twenty players in the world, the enriched Joshna Chinappa (world rank 14)and Dipika Pallikal (rank 17) there to do duty, the men’s bunch also looks quite competitive. Spearheaded by Saurav Ghosal (ranked 20) the team has the previously-tested Harinder Pal Sandhu, a former national champion now, Kush Kumar and Ravi Dixit.

In comparison Pakistan in its ranks has Nasir Iqbal (ranked 36) who has beaten Ghosal before, experienced Farhan Zaman and Danish Atlas Khan among others. On paper India and Pakistan look evenly matched and that should queer the pitch for a close contest. The worry for India is that Ghosal, who had a brief lay off after a leg injury while playing in the Hong Kong Open has not had a match play thereafter though he has been on intense training in Doha and England. Also Harinder has not been in the best of touches though he is no push over as such. It may be recalled it was his gritty display that helped Ghosal thereafter to put India on way to a historic gold medal in the Incheon Asian Games in 2014.

On the women’s side, Pakistan has the Canada-based Maria Toorpakai Wazir ranked 50 and with previous experience, to lead the bunch which has Sadia Gul (ranked 94), an aggressive player, among others. Sri Lanka has in Mihiliya Methsarani, a Youth Commonwealth Games bronze medallist. Else the team is relatively inexperienced. India will have Joshna to spearhead. If necessary the two promising juniors Sunayna Kuruvilla and Akanksha Salunkhe are there to shoulder the burden. In the individual competition too, the focus should be on Joshna and the other Indians.

Squash-SAG- 2016

MEN:

India:
  1. Saurav Ghosal: 29-year old India’s national champion (has won it 10 times till date) and with a world rank of 20 is the highest ranked male player of the country. Was the first Indian to reach the pre-quarterfinal round in the World championship in 2012. Was a semi-finalist in the 2004 South Asian Games held in Islamabad. Has been playing in the professional circuit since 2003.
  2. Harinder Pal Sandhu: Twenty-six years old. Won his maiden national championship title in 2014, the year he had helped India win the team gold in the Asian Games in Incheon. Ranked 66 (his best was 56 last year), Harinder had taken part in the 2006 Games in Sri Lanka. He had won the gold medal in the men’s section in the inaugural squash event in the Asian Beach Games held in Phuket inThailand in November 2014.
  3. Kush Kumar: Just over 19 years, Kush is still to make a big impact as a senior player. But last year he won a PSA title (Tasmanian Open in Australia) and also reached the semi-finals in a couple of others in a short space. His exploits as a junior is what made him a player of great potential. A world junior bronze medallist and an Asian Youth Games gold medallist, Kush like Harinder is a trainee at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai. He is currently ranked 92 in the world
Pakistan:
  1. Nasir Iqbal: Just 21, this Peshawar player is ranked 35th in the world, his best show till date. He has played over 150 PSA tour matches and won 10 titles. This is his first appearance in the South Asian Games. In the Pakistan national championship he finished runner up to Farhan Zaman, who is also part of the Pakistan team.
  2. Farhan Zaman: Hails from Peshawar and is 22 years of age. The current national champion is ranked 59 in the world. Farhan has won 4 PSA tour titles and was a semi-finalist in quite a few others. He was also a semi-finalist in the Asian championship held in Kuwait last.
  3. Danish Atlas Khan: Twenty two years of age and he also hails from Peshawar. Currently ranked 75 (his best is 65 in June 2014) in the world, Danish has won 8 PSA tour titles including his last, the Chicago Open in October last year. Has the experience of playing over 150 matches in the PSA circuit.

WOMEN:

India:
  1. Joshna Chinappa: First Indian to win a British Junior Open title (U-19), Joshna (29) has won the national championship title 14 times. At rank 14 , she is the highest ranked Indian in the world (her best was 13 in December 2015). She is the reigning singles champion in the South Asian Games and comes to the event with over 300 match-play experience in the professional circuit. Joshna was member of the Indian team in 2004 and 2006 South Asian Games. More importantly she has remained unbeaten in the Games. A member of the Indian team which met with historic title success in the Asian championship in Kuwait in 2012
  2. Dipika Pallikal: Just 24, Dipika was ranked 10 in the world (her best) in 2012. Currently she stands at 17 but has the experience of playing over 250 matches in the professional circuit and winning 10 titles. She was also member of the title-winning Indian team in the Asian championship in 2012. She had finished runner up to Joshna in the 2006 South Asian Games in Sri Lanka.
Pakistan
  1. Maria Toorpakai Wazir: Hails from Peshawar but based in Toronto this 25 year old is ranked 50 in the world (her best was 41 in 2012). Coached by former world number one Jonathon Power, Maria has played in over 150 Tour matches and won five titles. She was member of the Pakistan team in the 2004 and 2006 South Asian Games.
  2. Sadia Gul: Only 17 years, Sadia too hails from Peshawar and reached 94 in world ranking last month. She lost in the semi-final in the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa. En route she had beaten India’s top junior Harshit Jawanda. A newcomer with promise.

Squash SAG – individuals 2016

Two players per country is the norm for the individual competitions. As per the men’s seeding, Saurav Ghosal takes the pride of place and Pakistan’s number one player Nasir Iqbal the second spot. If everything goes well, these two should meet in the final and since Ghosal has a 2-1 record over Nasir it is tempting to state that the Indian national champion is the favourite. However Ghosal missed a few weeks of match –action after a foot injury at the Hong Kong Open in October-November last lay him down briefly. Though he has since gained serious training sessions in Doha and England he has for a while missed the testing times of an actual match situation. Harinder Pal Sandhu and Pakistan national champion Farhan Zaman are the third and fourth seeds. Farhan in the three meetings with Harinder had won on each occasion. The focus will be on these players. Pakistan had dominated the men’s section in the previous editions. Players from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal are relatively raw on the international scene but will play for experience. For the record following are the rest in the field Ravindu Hashintha Laksiri; Mohamed Shamil Wakeel (both Sri Lanka); Md Shopon Pervez; Md Shumon (Bangladesh); Amrit Thapa Magar and Arhant Keshar Simha (both Nepal)

In the women’s section, Joshna Chinappa , the reigning champion is the top seed with Dipika Pallikal placed second. As the most experienced and the only two top-20 world ranked players in the field, the focus should be on them. Joshna is also the national champion, winning the title 14 times now. In terms of rankings, Maria Toorpakai Wazir and Sadia Gul, both of Pakistan are the third and fourth seeds. Maria has previous experience and has been undergoing training in Toronto under Jonathon Power, a former world number one. Joshna has never lost to Maria. As for Sadia, who is a junior, playing the seniors will be an experience. As for the rest, Mihilya Methsarani the fifth seed was a bronze medallist at the Samoa Youth Commonwealth Games last year. She is an experienced junior and has been coming into notice for the promise she shows. The other players in the fray are : Naduni Gunawardane (Sri Lanka); Bhawana Sunwar and Krishna Thapa (both Nepal). There are no entries from Bangladesh.