PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day
The crowd won the hearts of the players, everyone kept
commenting about that. They were rooting for Ramy of course.
In between they had entertainment with two kids doing Michael
Johnson dances and Ella singing a western number.
Ramy Ashour was not allowed one moment to himself after his
victory in the Punj Lloyd PSA Masters. The young kids were all
over. I wanted to present him with a T shirt and only managed to
do so when he was about to leave.
His face lit up, "The first thing someone has given me on this
trip'' he said after getting the Omtex T shirt. Omtex are the
ones who clothe our leading footballers and have the all-weather
Ramy didn't get the giant cheque that one often sees at sporting
events that's what he meant, perhaps.
decisions about the tin and bounce be decided by technology?
The time has come for that if the flow of the game is to be
maintained, felt a Delhi veteran Sumanjit Chaudhry who was in
town and watched the final. He is the friend of Ajoy Bhandare a
Bombay Gymkhana and Willingdon player whose daughter Rhea played
Sumanjit's mother, Sushilkanta, was the five-time Indian women's
squash champion in the 50s her record being broken by
The talk veered to the winning nick shot that
Ramy Ashour played. And the one Nick didn't. Said Sumanjit, who
plays club level, "I remember hearing the great Hashim Khan
saying, "Hit 200 nicks and you see the ball get bigger, the nick
get bigger.'' But modern players believe it is a high-risk shot
especially when the ball is hot.
The exhibition doubles encounter at the start of the day saw
some some funny moments. Alex Gough trying to look like the
funny one and succeeding with his trick shots; James Willstrop
ducking and then hunched up playing four successive volleys to
great applause from the crowd, Hisham Ashour rooted in the
forehand forecourt and volleying accurately. Alister Walker had
precious little to do.
curtain fell on the event Raj Arora of Ivy Sports said,
"You guys are free my work has started. Indeed a lot of loose
ends will need to be tied up.
Gough, the CEO of PSA, was hopeful of more events in India.
"The crowd was superb.''
Gough hopes the next event with have women also. The joint
events will be a feature of next year's events. An MOU is to be
signed. He envied the Indian event which was televised live for
the last four days. The IOC has told us to sort the TV aspect
out for Olympic recognition. We are closing deals with channels
in the UK.
final thoughts were with Nick Matthew. Not losing a game for
five days and losing three on the sixth.
"It pains to lose games you thought were yours. I won't brood
but learn from mistakes and win at Saudi for an Xmas gift for
Said like a true sportsman
PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day Five
Mumbai squash fans keep players motivated
as in Cairo: PSA chief
must not stop after holding this mega squash event the $152k
Punj Lloyd Masters, says Ziad Al Turki, the Saudi
chairman of the Professional Squash Association.
Having staged PSA events in Saudi Arabia, a minor squash nation,
for five years now, Al Turki says it is only after watching
quality squash that children will be inspired to see a future
for themselves in the sport.
Excerpts from the interview:
What was the experience of watching an Indian event for a
It is good to see a PSA mega event back after so many years. I
am delighted Atul Punj has made a commitment for three years.
The atmosphere is very much like Cairo where the fans get behind
the players. That is necessary. In Europe the fans are much more
reserved. They go for football. It is important that squash
players stay motivated by the fans.
Did the playing conditions measure up?
There were some warm nights. But the players enjoyed it. Some of
them who lost early stuck around to do some sight-seeing.
How popular is the sport in Saudi?
wasn't very popular. But after staging a PSA event for five
years now we stands full for our event. Next week we have the
richest PSA event a $250,000 affair which will bring the curtain
down on the season.
Next year we will stage the World Open. After each event the
number of kids playing goes up. If they see quality squash the
kids know there a future for them in the sport. And the results
are showing. We had a top three finish in the Arab League GCC
Do you have a junior programme going?
sponsor children's coaching in Egypt. We began with 25 and have
now kept a batch of 15. I am sad Indian juniors backed out of a
tournament we had where kids from most Asian countries came.
Have you made an impact in Asia?
Not yet, we are not that level but in course of time we will
reach there once our 14-year-olds in training raise the level of
Do you have Pakistani coaches?
Just a few. A majority are from Egypt. We send out players to
Day five at the PSA Masters was full of excitement.
an India-Lanka T20 game was on in Nagpur and live on TV, the
North stand was almost full which proved squash has its patrons
and there was no way they would miss the Shabana-Ashour battle.
The Egyptians gave a squash treat. And coaches like Vaman Apte
and Dushyant Singh in the commentators' box said this was the
squash Indian juniors ought to watch so that they would go
The amazing court coverage, the feigning and deception,
the lobs, the drops, the tickle boat that Shabana played and the
dribble-type shot Ashour did reminding us of our great game
Hockey where Indians' and Pakistanis' dribbling was a class
You need someone on the other side for a dribble here Ramy had only the wall and the tin and yet he did it beating his
opponent who was lurking behind ! Now only shot remaining to be
seen is the cork-screw serve!
Up there in the commentary position was
James Willstrop sharing
the mike with me and later Dushyant Singh. He gave insights into
the All-English semi-final clash. He commiserated with Barker
when the decision didn't go with him at 8-6 in the first. He was
all praise for the way Nick read the game and was hardly hustled
hard even as Barker tried with sidewall shots and ones into the
entertainment continued between matches and we had people
making martial arts sounds with the mouth and emcee Shayriyar
having quiz questions for the kids whose right answers were
rewarded with a prize of new racquets.
There was a quiet dinner for the players earlier in the week.
There was a noisy one on Wednesday night. Players, officials,
refs, mediamen, VIPs got the chance to interact.
Alex Gough was getting feedback on how to take the game forward
on the lines of other successful players.
He was for regimenting
players about some things like media interaction for the better
coverage of the sport which is trying for Olympic recognition.
Paul Selby was lamenting why a junior programme wasn't
flourishing in UK where the sport thrived at club level. Gough's
lament was that in the US the Ivy League was the be-all and
end-all of squash.
One got see
Misha Grewal, India's squash queen of the 90s.
Delhi-based Misha was recently seen with the Commonwealth Games
torch in London. She plays more badminton than squash at the
Siri Fort complex. Her son Neil was busy taking autographs.
admitted she had put on weight and squash would be tough. She
has another baby and that takes up all her time. She was happy
to meet up with players of her time like Manish Chotrani, Akhil
Behl. Ritwik's mom Rani gave Misha company.
PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day Four
Day four of the Punj LLoyd PSA Masters platinum event saw the
players being sidelined take to the mike of Doordarshan,
India's National TV Channel which is beaming the matches
live since Monday.
on was Saurav Ghoshal who did the Shabana-Shorbagy game
along with Dushyant Singh, former Indian junior-turned
coach at Mayo College and who now is heading an international
school at Gurgaon near Delhi.
Saurav provided plenty of insights for the viewers especially
about the Egyptian psyche which has made them world-beaters.
Asked about the Pakistanis, who are conspicuous by their absence
here because of visa problems, Saurav said players like Amir
Atlas and Farhan Mehboob were two who deserved their spot in the
top echelons. Saurav's tussles with a similar player Amir Atlas
lit up the juniors scene.
We talked about the celeb commentators, what about the `pucca'
(regular) commentators? There was Milind Wagle who did
the interviews. He has been in commentary for 35 years. He has
covered 28 different sports from marathons, cricket, martial
arts, Asian, Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games. He did the
last Mahindra Open in 1996 also.
His enthu for sport is infectious and he is one face Indian
viewers continue to watch through the years. A man for all
seasons is Milind with his patent hat. The live telecast
produced by Messers Pawar and Mogle also has commentary in the
national language Hindi provided by Sunil Vaidya and Rajesh.
There's another commentator who works in isolation under the
stands, it's Adrian who does the PSA Live commentary. His
knowledge of the sport and its people is amazing and the speed
with which he provides stats and details is second to none.
In between the matches the entertainement continues. There's
emcee Shahriyar. There was the Indian Elvis, Siddharth
Meghani who sang some impressive numbers.
Shahriyar had a friend along, Prashant Kumar, founder of
Full Contact Entertainement which regales people with no-holds
barred mixed martial arts.
He is having a show in Mumbai this month. Maybe next time in
between matches we could have a demo this art?
on was Malaysian Ong Beng Hee, who shared the mike with
me for the Ramy-Palmer match. Beng also sang praises of the
Egyptians and said "We must find out what they do better than
We talked about the strokes, the boast from back, the overheads
into the nick, the parallels. He thought the players didn't
experiment too much because of the warm conditions and the hot
ball. They took the basic and easy way out. Nor did they do much
with the service, the main aim being to get the ball to the
Asked about the slippery conditions Beng said he had been lucky
in that respect. He said some players sweated more than others
and that caused problems. He hoped ASP, the court makers, would
home in on a solution to dry the courts faster. "If squash is to
get into the Olympics we will need steps to be taken that won't
arrest the flow of a match,'' were the final comments of Beng
who said he was looking forward to coming to India for the
Commonwealth Games next year.
Last in for the commentary for the
Barker-Anjema game was Ritwik Bhattacharya who talked
with Dushyant Singh about his Kolkata days and of squash in his
youth. Ritwik was joined by his parents this night. Dad Ranjan
was a Indian Air Force pilot who till two years ago after
retirement was training pilots.
Now he has settled down in Tivim in Goa where he runs two
restaurants. One has the Goan cuisine. The other is for the
"I have lovely rooms not far from the sea, do come and
experience the fun,'' he told me and my colleague Naoshirvan
sister Monica is doing the PR here and star friend
Neha Dhupia was around to watch the matches. She has been
taking squash lessons from Egyptian Ahmed Youssef, once their
national coach Youssef has been in the country for over a year
working with the juniors in the programme of the Indian Squash
Professionals, the world's unique Squash NGO of Mahendra Agarwal.
PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day
international and National champ Manish Chotrani was among those
who was excited by the Shorbagy-Wilstrop game.
"They went on for
an hour and fifty minutes. What a match. A pity it wasn't televised. I don't think we will see a better match.
Manish was among the more strokeful of India's champs. Because
of his work-- he is a dress designer--he couldn't devote full
time to the sport or he would have made the heights.
He said, "I
told my dad, `drop me to the station there was no way I was
going to miss today's matches and I was happy I did that.''
Manish's design creations go all over the world. The
latest one to use them was my daughter Devashree at her recent
wedding with Nishad Dhurandhar. Manish was shown a pic of his
Devashree has been a TV interviewer at squash
events, Nishad is a local cricketer and an MBA in finance from
He had a novel idea of a Wedding Cricket Challenge ahead
of the wedding, a ten-over game between the two wedding parties
which was attended by Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Karsan
Ghavri and Chandu Pandit all former India cricketers.
Back to Manish, his eight-year-old son Vir is into the game
and winning u-9 titles. He was exploring plans to send Vir to
Pontefract and Mick Todd told him a fortnight there
could be useful.That would make the kid among the youngest
Indians to train abroad.
In the past Indian kids
would train in Malaysia in an exchange programme worked out by
Khalid Ansari and late squash writer Raju Chainani with the
Malaysian Petra Foundation which had the blessings of Tunku
Malaysian kids would come and train in cricket at Vengsarkar's Elf Academy. What a fair exchange!
Two Sports ...
Day three at the Punj LLoyd PSA Masters
at the Bombay Gymkhana grounds saw Dilip Vengsarkar, former
India Test skipper and batsman, the Lord of Lord's (for his
three successive hundreds there) pay a visit.
the squash lads needed a pep and asked Dilip if he would come
and do that since he was a Bombay Gymkhana member. He readily
agreed and on the dot of 5 30 pm was in the club. The idea was
to pep up Saurav Ghoshal ahead of his clash against Amr Shabana.
But Saurav was in his `zone' in the locker room and we didn't
want to disturb that. So it was Ritwik who got talking with
Vengsarkar. Vengsarkar told him that the ambience they had
created was amazing that's what sport should be all about.
People should want to come to watch.
is planning an Indian Premier League type T20 cricket for Mumbai
clubs and he could thought he would replicate the Bombay
Gymkhana ambience at the Mumbai Police Gymkhana. The city has any
number of clubs which can stage events of a small nature.
About squash Vengsarkar said it
is sad that in India cricket dwarfs every other sport. "Sorry to
say I didn't know who Saurav was. We need to create awareness
about all sport.''
Awareness was what Sahara did when
they had their sports awards for a cross section of
spotsfolk and Vengsarkar was part of the jury that picked a
non-cricketer as the winner, Olympic gold medallist
shooter Abhinav Bindra
Mick Todd was seen in animated
conversation with Saurav Ghoshal and dad Rajendar.They did an
informal post-mortem of the match against Shabana. The upshot
was that Saurav could have won more points by sticking to the
basic game of driving to length.
I told them I had watched a
rally between two Indian greats Raj Manchanda and Anil Nayar
which had over fifty parallels and no cross courts. They tell me
the game has changed, the balls are faster they don't die
easily. But we saw in the match between Shorbagy and
Willstrop how the basic old-fashioned game still has a place.
What a match that was!
Two Crore ...
sponsors, Punj Lloyd, the sponsors of this event have pumped in Rs two crore.
That's a big sum considering that it's their
first event. Said Atul Punj, of the company which into projects,
"In the past we sponsored squash player Yogendra Singh (now a
ref), rally driver Karun Chandok and are now doing it for Saurav
and Deepika Pallikal. When Ritwik came and asked for a big sum,
I told him "Let me give this for starters let me see what it is
all about and then we will take it up from there.''
seen the media coverage Punj will no doubt come again. But he
wants the event in Delhi his base. And he feels any of the
Commonwealth Games venues would do especially the boxing arena.
Talking of exchange visits Saurav's dad
Rajendar was talking to Mick Todd about an exchange visit
between his Calcutta Racquets Club the oldest in the world going
back to 1793 and Pontefract. Both parties were keen. Watch this
PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day
Saurav Ghoshal had a workout with Ramy Ashour ahead of his round
of 16 match with Amr Shabana.
"I had massage for the rest of the day. For me Amr is the most
complete player playing the right shot all the time. Even before
playing my match one glimpse of him was enough to fill my
heart,'' he told squash scribe Naoshirvan Vakil.
Yes minister ...
Day two at the PSA Masters began with a pleasant surprise a
visit by the Maharashtra sports minister Suresh Shetty.
The newly-appointed Shetty addressed the crowd before the
opening game of the night. He said his first priority would to
put a sports policy in place. "I have watched squash since a
long time,’’ he said. He hails from Marol which is also the
place where Mahendra Agarwal the founder of Indian Squash
The minister met the local squash officials like Ranjan Sanghi,
Shiv Malhotra, Mahendra Agarwal and Bombay Gymkhana president
Ashok Rao, vice-president Dr Ajit Deodhar and sought from them
names of worthy people for the projects he had in mind.
Shetty said his second priority would be to have two committees.
"One will be of sportsfolk, administrators, coaches who would
advise on a policy that would be in place for the next ten
years. The other committee would be for sports infrastructure,
to improve the existing one and set up new ones. We all know
that the Balewadi complex is under utilised and we will try and
make a difference.’’
Asked if from his experience in the Cabinet whether sports had
any kind of priority in the state, Shetty said, "We have a young
CM who is interested in sport. He will be there for sport.’’
About the poor per capita participation in sport Shetty said,
"Schools don’t have grounds so it is tough to motivate the
young. We will try and have a programme for the schools also.’’
Cameron's Quartet ...
Saurav's victim Cameron Pilley, the Aussie, spent the day in the
pool of the Taj. He was back in the night to watch the games.
Asked if he was game to play Racketlon, a game that combined
four racket sports like squash, badminton, tennis and table
tennis Pilley said "yes, why not''.
This sport has never been played in India and I am trying to
have a few guys do it during this event. Incidentally the world
champion in Racketlon happens to be from squash, it's Finland's
Miko and Michaela Björnström are the doubles champs. Her main
game is tennis. World No 2 Swede Magnus Eliasson, by the way, is
a special case since his main background as an athlete is not in
any of the racket sports but in ice hockey.
day's hero Daryl Selby had a pat on the back from Mick Todd and
dad Paul. Todd said, "I expected him to do well but not beat
Greg. But sometimes Greg goes to pieces and it happened
Dad said, "I knew he could do it the way he was shaping the past
few months. You have to get into Greg's mind. Daryl also did the
right thing by complaining to the referee rather than show any
tantrums on court. After that Greg was wary of making any more
obstructions which may have led to a `stroke' call. Daryl won
the battle there.''
Atai was seen with a different wig. He continued to regale the
fans in between matches and there were singers adding to the
delight for the Sunday crowd. Shahriyar has composed the squash
songs he sang on the opening night himself. He is threatening to
send me the lyrics for the benefit of Squashsite readers. Watch
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day One
hereby declare ...
Ziad Al Turki declared the the championship open by facing
the audience from his position in the first row. That was how
simple it was.
Pradeep Khanna, GOC Southern Command, who was the chief
guest said he had played squash since 1944. He played in the
early days at the National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla near
Pune about 200 km from Mumbai. He said he gave it up at the age
of 44 when his son, coached by Ritwik Bhattacharya, beat him
His presence evoked memories of squash in the Services who were
the pioneers of the game after the Cricket Club of India and
other clubs. In fact early Indian teams were mostly made up of
army, navy and air force players.
Today the army is run professionally and sport has taken a back
seat at least for the top brass. The Navy band was in attendance
and brought an old world charm to the evening.
At the Mahindra Open we had the young kids acting as chaperons
for the players.
Asked who he was attached to, British Junior
u-15 champ Mahesh Mangaonkar said, "Not really, I am in charge of
cleanlinesss of the court.''
He had a job on hand as it kept getting slippery and the drying
process was not a hundred per cent working the night , the
humidity and dew not helping matters.
Two cheers ...
of the PSA Masters was made interesting by anchor Shahryar,
an Iranian entertainer. Of course it took him some efforts to
get the crowds to vibe to him. But they did after he sang some
squash songs, invited the audience to the front of the courts to
dance with the cheer leader girls and had some questions for
them the right answers of which were rewarded with gifts.
Two Dots ...
That he was not a squash aficionado was evident when he called
Akhil Behl and asked him what the two yellow dots on the
ball stood for. But Akhil after getting the answer right was
stumped when asked what was the fastest speed with which a
squash ball had been hit. When he said 160 km the answer turned
out to be 276 km!
champ Behl got together with Ong Beng Hee
his old adversary from the Asian Juniors days. Behl planned to
take him out for dinner later. Behl played at Trinity before
coming back to India.
Liking it ...
is liking Mumbai just as much as Chennai where he played the World
Teams in 2007.
Asked about the food he said he
had chicken curry, spicy one. He will not experiment with fish
which is big thing in Mumbai while the tournament is on. Many an
international sportsperson has gone down with the "Bombay
Belly'' after having fish. So sad.
Gregory Gaultier liked the city because of the architecture.
As he looked out from the Bombay Gymkhana grounds he could see
in the skyline the building of the Mumbai Corporation, the
Victoria Terminus train station, the St Xavier's College, the
Esplande court, the Cama Hospital all in one line.
It is because
of these Gothic structures that the organisers of the Standard
Chartered Mumbai Marathon want to keep the start and finish at a
spot not far away from the Bombay Gymkhana near the corporation
building. The marathon is slated for January.
Spectators who were not familiar with the sport could listen on
their earpieces the commentary and know what was happening. This wi-fi thing was a first for the event in Mumbai.