“A good rest”, said Joshna Chinappa was what she had planned, for now, speaking from her home in Chennai soon after her tryst with that historic moment in Pune when she won her 17th and record making national squash title. Thus, after 27 years, the long-standing record of one-time ace, Bhuvneshwari Kumari was lowered, and what does the future beckon?
Joshna laughs, for this gritty girl, nay sportswoman, there is so much more squash left in her. They say in squash, players generally peak around the 30s and this Indian star is right there currently and playing perhaps her best squash and enjoying too. “I will continue to play as long as I am enjoying the moments,” she had said once, and there is little doubt that is what is happening to this hugely popular squash player, virtually the ambassador of Indian squash, even as she garners fresh approbations.
Only a month ago in Malaysia, Joshna had retained her Asian Crown after annexing it for the first time in Chennai a year earlier. On that occasion, too, in Chennai it was history for no Indian squash player, male or female had achieved this colossal feat. In Malaysia, Saurav Ghosal picked the men’s title, and that meant India for the first time had two Asian Champions at the same time, something that has made Squash Federation officials believe that not only has the sport picked up but it was virtually galloping ahead in style.
Be that as it may, for the moment, the focus is totally on Joshna for it is never easy to keep a career going without the kind of sacrifices and commitment that she had faced. In India, finding good squash talents on a regular scale is not rare but sustaining them to the level of Joshna, and until recently Dipika Pallikal Karthik is what is the biggest challenge.
More often than not, the crucial years are when the young skills reach the school-leaving stage when academic career gains prominence. Good squash players have easy access to top Universities in the US because the sport has a robust career-linked base there and the temptations are high. Thus we saw the exit of players like Anaka Alankamony and Velavan Senthilkumar, two outstanding talents who had in them to go miles in the sport. This is where Joshna has been different. She kept squash as her top priority, resisted all alternatives, and the rest is what we see today, feats after feats.
Where does she go from here? Joshna is clear that her hunger for National titles will not dim. Indeed if she needed any motivation to become the highest national title-winner (compared with all squash playing countries), her goal is not too distant! According to information available and quite reliable at that, Finish woman player Tuula Myllyniemi, now 54 years of age, has the highest tally of 20 national titles. In her current form and fitness level, crossing that should not be a difficult task, but as always the Indian champion is guarded. She does not wish to put down the rising new levels of talents in India. She thought the opponent in the final this time, Sunayna Kuruvilla played truly well. Sunayna must have been just about a year old when Joshna won her first national title, and here she was challenging her famed opponent. That spoke volumes of Joshna’s endurance and her continued passion for the sport.
A sports officer with the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, a post she gained through her string of achievements, Joshna today is the biggest inspiration for the younger talents coming up in the sport. “It is fabulous to have players like her around for the impact she gives. Besides Joshna has been exceptional,” said Cyrus Poncha, National Coach until recently and one-time mentor of her at the Indian Squash Academy (ISA). Though it was the ISA which made her into a formidable player, her run in the professional circuit and the experience of ups and downs there hardened her into a player that she is today. Life on the professional circuit is never easy, it can be a drudgery, but the young lady has taken everything in her stride with just one goal in mind: to excel. Indeed this Indian star is not done yet, and in the seasons ahead, she is bound to stitch a few more deeds to her enviable career.