On a balmy Mumbai evening, the crowd slowly sets in on a working day at the Brabourne Stadium during the CCI International. The biggest draw of course, is veteran Saurav Ghosal, arguably the best that India has ever had to offer in squash.

Despite the event comprising of some star-studded names such as Egyptian Omar Mossad and Spaniard Borja Golan, the sedate crowd are on the edge of their seats as Ghosal takes centrestage. There are cries of “come on” from a gallery that comprises of kids as well as septuagenarians.

There are plenty of gasps, which he draws from his elegant touches in the front court that leave his opponents flummoxed. Every point earned is met with a thunderous applause.

For a vast majority of the squash aficionados, it is a question of whether Ghosal will add yet another crown on Friday when he takes on Switzerland’s Nicolas Muller.

The former world no 15 shrugs off the expectations that come with being the cynosure of all eyes, “ I am just trying to enjoy the process as much as I can,” he tells The Field during an interaction.

Now 31, Ghosal has adopted a pragmatic approach going into tournaments and insists that improving on his ranking [He is currently at 21] doesn’t play on his mind anymore: “I am past that [Rankings]. I am currently focused on enjoying my game. I am just happy playing in really good venues. I am not bothered about it right now.”

A studied step-by-step approach may have had a lot to with his somewhat patchy start to the year. However, he has bounced back in style since, finishing as the beaten finalist in the Asian Championship, clinching an unprecedented 12th Nationals crown and taking the runner-up spot in the prestigious Macau Open.

Ghosal has been in scintillating form in India’s only PSA tournament. On Thursday, he downed Mossad in four games to blitz through to the final. The Kolkata lad pins down this recent windfall in results to taking to fitness with a renewed vigour,

“The first half of [2017] it wasn’t great. [During] the new season after the summer, me and my coaches worked on a few things. I added a few things and it’s been better since. It is a mental switch. It is about mentally being able to enjoy myself on the court.”

Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s state-of-the-art Performance Targeting Centre at Chandigarh also played a crucial hand, says Ghosal. “The most important addition in India is the Performance Targeting Centre, which helped me keep my body in shape. My team has figured that if my body is in good shape then I can do some damage and play high level of squash and beat good players.

“The focus on seeing if the body is functioning efficiently. The training bit is also there. Here, it has more to with understanding the restrictions from the hip and keeping the body free. The chances of getting injured are also less,” he added.

The Asian and Commonwealth dream

Saurav Ghosal led India to its first ever gold medal in squash at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon | Photo credit: IANS
Saurav Ghosal led India to its first ever gold medal in squash at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon | Photo credit: IANS

Ghosal is far from done, though and is hunting for more glory. Next year’s Commonwealth and Asian Games, feature prominently. It was the diminutive right-hander who opened the floodgates in such marquee events, and has three bronze medals, a gold and a silver in Asian Games.

“It is very important for me. I don’t want to say that is the be-all and end-all, but I want do everything I can to be in the best possible shape for August and September next year.”

The former junior world no 1 also has one eye on the road ahead, “I’d like to play the next cycle of the Commonwealth and the Asian Games, but that is five years from now. Right now, I am just taking it one match and one tournament at a time.”

Bright future for India

Ghosal also has a word of praise for India’s next-gen and feels that the current lot is “the strongest pool of boys we have ever had”:

“Nothing even comes close [from the previous generations], be it the quality or the depth. Ramit [Tandon] is playing well. Mahesh [Mangaonkar] has played well. Vikram [Malhotra] played very well last year. It’s great for Indian squash and the next step is to back that group, and there is a lot of potential to achieve good things in the next two-three years.”