• Punj Lloyd PSA Masters 2009 • 05-10 Dec • Mumbai •  





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PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day
And Finally ...

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 gear.

Ramy didn't get the giant cheque that one often sees at sporting events that's what he meant, perhaps.

Can the 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 for Trinity.

Sumanjit's mother, Sushilkanta, was the five-time Indian women's squash champion in the 50s her record being broken by Bhuvaneshwari Kumari.

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.
As the 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.
Alex 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.
One's 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 myself.''

Said like a true sportsman

Bye Bye
PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day F
Mumbai squash fans keep players motivated as in Cairo: PSA chief

India 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 change?

Great. 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?

It 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 playoffs.

Do you have a junior programme going?

I 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 their game.

Do you have Pakistani coaches?

Just a few. A majority are from Egypt. We send out players to Egypt.

Day five at the PSA Masters was full of excitement.

Even though 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 forward.

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 apart.

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 nick.
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.

Birthday boy 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.

She 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
Commentators Galore

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.

First 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?

Next 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 us.''

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 wall.

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 foreigners.

"I have lovely rooms not far from the sea, do come and experience the fun,'' he told me and my colleague Naoshirvan Vakil.

Ritwik's 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

Former 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 creation.

Devashree has been a TV interviewer at squash events, Nishad is a local cricketer and an MBA in finance from IOWA.

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 Imran.

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.

I thought 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.

Vengsarkar himself 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
Two Dads ...

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 ...

Talking of 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.''

Having 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.
Two Clubs ...

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 space.
PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day
Saurav's rest

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 Professionals lives.

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 Mikko Kärkkäinen.

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.
Daryl's Delight

The 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 tonight.''

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.''

Emcee Shahriyar 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 this space!
PSA Masters Diary
by Pradeep Vijayakar ... Day One
I hereby declare ...

PSA chairman 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.

Lt Gen 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 9-0,9-0,9-0.

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 ...

The inauguration 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!

Former Indian 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 ...

Amr Shabana
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.
Frenchman 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.


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