With the national team without a head coach for more than a year, Indian stars Joshna Chinappa and Saurav Ghosal had to rely on injured teammate Harinder Pal Sandhu for coaching advice en route their historic triumph at the Asian Individual Squash Championship in Kuala Lumpur.
Sandhu, who is an active player and Ghosal’s best friend, was sitting courtside when the 10th-ranked Indian outplayed the reigning Asian Games champion Leo Au in straight games to become the first male from India to win the continental title on Sunday night.
But this time, Sandhu was not sitting as a teammate but as the ‘official’ coach travelling with the squad.
Though Sandhu, who is recovering from a serious back injury, did really well for a makeshift arrangement, national coach Cyrus Poncha did not travel with the team for one of the most important events of the year.
However, the scenario is not new in Indian squash as the players had to bank on each other’s advice during the Asian Games last year, creating an embarrassing situation for travelling support staff comprising Poncha and Bhuvneshwari Kumari.
When asked why Poncha did not travel with the team to Kuala Lumpur, especially when the team doesn’t have a foreign coach since March 2018, Indian Squash Federation president Debendranath Sarangi sounded clueless. “National coach Poncha was very much with the team,” he said.
However, the players, including Ghosal, who were in Kuala Lumpur, confirmed they had not seen Poncha around during the competition.
Poncha, who was conspicuous by his absence in Malaysia, had told PTI last month that the SRFI had decided to rope in foreign coaches on an event to event basis rather than having one full-time, which is the norm in major Indian sports federations.
A foreign expert was supposed to travel with the contingent to Kuala Lumpur but Sarangi said he is still awaiting sports ministry’s approval on the appointment.
“There are elections going on in the country and the government is busy. We hope to get the sanction in the next couple of weeks and when the next event comes, there will be a foreign coach travelling with the squad,” said the SRFI chief when asked why no coach has been hired in more than a year.
Ghosal and Chinappa, arguably the finest players to have come out of India, produced their A game to beat their highly-rated opponents. Chinappa defended the women’s singles crown by beating long-time rival Annie Au for the first time since September 2017.
Choosing not to comment on the coach-less conundrum, Ghosal said it was good to have Sandhu by the courtside.
“He is my best friend and knows my game inside out. I had spoken to David Palmer (his personal coach and former world number one) before the final and Sandhu knew what he had discussed. He knows what I can do on the court and it surely helped me,” Ghosal said. “It was a good coaching stint for him but it is something he can explore after retiring from professional squash. Hoping he is back on court soon,” he added.
Chinappa too credited Sandhu and physio Dimple for keeping her in good shape. “Honestly, it was amazing to have Harry (Sandhu) as coach. He is an active player who could not take part due to his injury but was really professional as a coach. He in fact started preparing with me one week in advance and being my mixed doubles partner, knows my game really well,” she said.