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Commonwealth Games

Saurav Ghosal's theatre of excellence: Tears of joy on beating old foe, winning historic medal

Commonwealth Games 2022: Saurav Ghosal's win in the Bronze medal match was special for a reason other than being India's first individual squash medal too. In 12 past meetings, Saurav had never beaten his English opponent fair and square before this.

Saurav Ghosals theatre of excellence: Tears of joy on beating old foe, winning historic medal

S.R. Suryanarayan

Updated: 5 Aug 2022 7:37 AM GMT

It is amazing how Saurav Ghosal sometimes converts a squash court into a theatre of excellence!

At the age of 35, the Kolkata lad has carried the expectations of the nation for more than a decade now but this is how he has always been - brimming with enthusiasm always and energetic to the core. It was a mix of these qualities that helped him overcome James Willstrop, his long-time friend and Academy partner for the bronze medal success in Birmingham.

This was India's first ever singles medal in the history of the Commonwealth Games and it was fitting that Ghosal authored this historic moment. Wednesday was undoubtedly a big day for Indian squash as it brought the first individual medal in a major event. The CWG is considered only next to the World Championship in this sport.

Ghosal seems to have this knack to trigger such occasions. A few years ago it was his brilliant effort that helped India win a gold medal in the team event in the Asian Games in Incheon 2014. That was another memorable day for Indian squash.

As the man on the spot, Cyrus Poncha, the SRFI Secretary-General said of Saurav's display, "Even in the semi-final against the eventual gold-medal winner, Paul Coll, the world number two from New Zealand, Saurav had played his heart out. It was sheer brilliance by the New Zealander in the later stages of the match that swung that match in his favour. Against James, Saurav had returned determined and fully geared up."

Beating a familiar foe

Both James and Saurav have been training partners under the former's famed father, the late Malcolm Willstrop at the Pontefract Academy in England. Even if each knew the other's game to the hilt, James had a 11-1 win record over his Indian opponent prior to the CWG. The one time this lanky player was beaten by the Indian was five years ago in the World Championship in Manchester where again it was an injury that had stopped him after the first-round match had just gone for 10 minutes with the Englishman leading 1-0.

Birmingham proved different. Saurav beat him fair and square, the Englishman finding himself unable to match the pace of the Indian.

The aftermath brought the impact of the win! After the customary hug and handshake with his close mate, Saurav moved to the sidelines and went down on his haunches with tears gushing down his cheek. Emotions overtook him and why not! This was his fourth CWG and he knew he had to do it now or never. He has been a source of inspiration for his teammates and country for so many years, but that individual medal had always remained elusive.

When the moment came he knew he had to come to terms with that hour of joy.

"So many factors crossed my mind at that moment," Sourav told The Bridge.

"I had won the first medal for my country in the Games, I had beaten a close and respected friend James and above all the feeling of having achieved something," he added.

"Yes, I am looking forward to the challenges ahead."

And there could be more. Saurav and Dipika Pallikal Karthik are the current world mixed doubles champions and they have a chance to fix their stamp of being a champion pair in CWG too.

Two decades of many firsts

Even as a 15-year-old when he landed in Chennai, shifting his base from Kolkata to join the then ICL Squash Academy (now renamed the Indian Squash Academy) established around the turn of the century, what caught the eye was his bubbly nature.

Making a mark in the sport was his aim. Under the famed coach, the Malaysian Maj S. Manian, ably assisted by the national coach Poncha, Ghosal was always a delightful pupil. Always ready for hard work and quick to pick up the nuances, this Kolkata lad seemed even in those early days well on the way to give Indian squash a much needed boost.

The wait was not long. In 2003 itself, Saurav won his first international title, the German junior U-19 Open. A year later he became the first Indian to win a title in the British Junior Open (the U-19). Since then there has never been a look back for this irrepressible talent as he grew from strength to strength.

From a bubbling bundle of energy to a world class player, it has been a big transformation for Saurav. He along with his teammates Joshna Chinappa and Dipika in particular shouldered the responsibility of lifting Indian squash to the world level. At age 35 now, he is a veteran in every sense but with a young sharp mind, a large heart and strong legs. Anyone seeing him on court will appreciate that. James is the latest to realise what it is to match wits with him.

Even as Saurav cherishes the latest success, there have been many more accomplishments that adorn his spectacular career thus far. From being the first Indian to become junior world number one, winning a medal in the Asian Games (bronze in 2006, Doha), entering the quarterfinal of a world championship (2013 Manchester) and now the CWG in Birmingham, Saurav indeed has come a long way.

And now the one big dream - a big performance in the World championship - is what beckons this great Indian.

"I will keep trying. Each time like any player who goes to the court, I enter with a win in mind. That is the aim…let's see," he leaves it at that.

For sure, knowing his resolve and steely grit, Saurav will not stop aiming that high as long as he is fit in every other way.

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