Saurav Ghosal enters his second Commonwealth Games as the de facto leader of the Indian squash contingent. This status comes based on his seniority compared to the rest of the group, albeit, Joshana Chinappa comes a close, if not equal, second.
Yet this wouldn’t be the first time Ghosal is in charge and calling the shots for his team, which includes Harinder Pal Sandhu and Dipika Pallikal. Back in Leeds, where the foursome shared a flat a few years ago, it was the 27-year-old who decided what the rest would eat. Not surprising, considering he was the head chef.
“Saurav was essentially the cook. The other three flatmates were in charge of cleaning the dishes, but he’d do them at times when he was feeling a bit too generous,” recalls Siddharth Suchde, Ghosal’s former sparring partner, who occupied the neighbouring apartment.
“We all pretty much lived together for years and have grown up together. So naturally the camaraderie has always been strong,” he adds. Suchde might not be a part of the Commonwealth Games-bound brigade this time around. But the camaraderie between Ghosal & Co that he talks about is primarily why the Indian contingent looks to the squash courts in Glasgow with great optimism, especially when it comes to the doubles event.
If anything, the strong rapport shared between the four gives India the edge, feels former national champion Ritwik Bhattacharya. According to him, learning the singles game takes care of the technical aspects needed for the two-player version. Then it’s just about the relationship between the two partners sharing a common goal.
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“In doubles you need a trusting partner. It’s just about playing enough together. Our players have fulfilled that requirement and that makes a big difference,” says Bhattacharya, the first Indian to play squash at the CWG.
The alliance that began in Leeds then shifted to Chennai. And the bonding only grew stronger, as Ghosal reveals.
“The base of having a good rapport on court is sharing a good relationship off it. We’re all good friends. My partner in men’s doubles, Harry (Sandhu) is my best friend. That’s what makes things work,” says Ghosal, ranked world No.16 and a leading contender for India in singles as well.
The Kolkata boy in a way is also a bridge between the past and the present, having started his doubles career in the company of Bhattacharya almost a decade back. And it’s tough to miss the awe in his partner’s tone when Sandhu speaks about his on-court kinship with Ghosal.
“You can get nervous at crucial points. That’s when you look at your partner for support. If you know that person really well, like I do Saurav, you’ll know he or she is also working hard for the win. That’s comforting and actually quite a good morale booster. Of course, you also know each other’s style of play and that’s always helpful,” explains the 25-year-old world No. 83.
Sandhu, who is the junior in his men’s doubles and mixed doubles, where he pairs up with Chinappa, says that the seniority extends beyond the squash court. “Saurav and Joshana are both experienced and keep giving me advice whenever they think I need it. They’re both good guides on the court and off it. Sometimes we go for movies together. We often go out for dinner though. We talk about our game with each other, but it’s all casual,” he adds.
Ghosal’s veteran tag also means that he spends time geeing up his female colleagues, Pallikal and Chinappa, who in their own right are no greenhorns.
“Dipika is a very aggressive player when she’s playing. And so when she loses a few points she can get a bit irritated. So I have to keep her calm and focused throughout,” says Ghosal.
While it’s understandable that tempers can flare between partners in the intensity of battle, complimenting each other’s game even when you’re down is the other important feature to a successful doubles pair. A sentiment echoed by all four.
Chinappa’s fifth-seeded pairing with Pallikal is considered a strong contender for a medal at the CWG this year, and for good reason. It’s all about making the most of each other’s abilities and complementing it, feels the 27-year-old.
“We’re both quite adept on each side, but she’s quite strong on the forehand and I have a good backhand. So things are set with us and it’s been working quite well,” she says.
Where this comradeship stands out is in the lack of it among their foreign counterparts, feels Bhattacharya.
“Overseas they keep changing partners way too often for that bond to be formed. It’s not the same that we have. This stability and camaraderie could well be the recipe for our success,” he insists. And who better to talk about recipes than Ghosal as he and his team look to cook up a storm over the next few weeks in Glasgow.