India’s dominance at the South Asian Games can be disconcerting for other teams. At the end of the second day of competition the hosts – 11-time overall champions at these games – had bagged over three times the gold medals than second-placed Sri Lanka. The gulf in competition between India and the rest in some of the disciplines is so vast that it ceases to be a contest.
The Indian women’s hockey team beat Nepal 24-0 on Sunday to kick-start their campaign. Even in the pool, where Sri Lanka has provided an edge to the contest, the Indians have nosed ahead with eight gold medals.
The India-Pakistan rivalry has also been subdued. Take for example the women’s volleyball and the women’s table tennis team event. Both were facile wins and in the latter the Indian team sailed to gold. In such a scenario, the squash men’s first semifinal was an essential antidote. It contained all the ingredients which make an Indian versus Pakistan contest watchable. India’s Harinder Singh Sandhu was the angry young man, fighting hard on court, wearing his heart on his sleeve, arguing with referees. His opponent, the higher-ranked Nasir Iqbal, a former British Open junior U 13 champion, was the wilier and more experienced of the two. On more than one occasion the referees had to intervene to ensure that tempers didn’t boil over. Unlike other racquet sports, in squash there is contact between opponents as they strive to reach the ball while playing side-by-side. It is the referee’s call if ‘interference’ has occurred while a point is in progress but the players tend to do their bit for a favourable decision especially when the ball is seemingly out of reach. On occasions the pushing and shoving for space can look ugly and ungainly.
Sandhu (ranked 66) and Iqbal (35) were involved in one such battle. At one point in the second game, Sandhu brushed his chin against Iqbal’s shoulder and it looked like he had bruised his lip. Iqbal used his physical advantage to pressurise Sandhu into conceding space. On one occasion, Sandhu slammed into the back of Iqbal, which resulted in the referee declaring ‘there was excessive contact’. At the start of the fourth game, the referee, hoping to calm things down, told the players that they were ‘getting too physical too early’. Sitting just outside the court, but in full view of their teammates engaged in battle, were the squash contingents of both countries, adding to the charged atmosphere with constant chants.
The adrenalin of the contest pushed Sandhu, ranked 31 places below Iqbal, to fight for every point, even if it meant animatedly questioning the decision of the officials.
Sandhu fought back to take the second game 14-12 and had levelled the fourth at 6-6 when he lunged for a backhand and pulled a hamstring on his right leg. When Sandhu initially inquired if he could get treatment before eventually pulling out, Iqbal and the Pakistan contingent objected stating that it was a time wasting tactic. However, after quickly assessing the extent of discomfort in his right leg, Sandhu walked up to Iqbal and shook hands. The 7-11, 14-12, 7-11, 6-6 score abruptly ended a contest which was going down to the wire.
The second semifinal between Saurav Ghosal was a comparatively well-mannered affair on court but it was the lower-ranked Farhan Zaman (No 59 on PSA rankings) who surprised the Indian with his touch play. Time and again Ghosal (No 20) struggled to reach the Pakistani’s well-concealed drop shot and the nick. Once Zaman took the first two games, it fell upon Ghosal to dig deep into his reserves of experience and skill to launch a fightback. Ghosal managed to pull one back but lost steam in the fourth going down 4-11, 5-11, 12-10, 5-11. The results of the men’s semifinal means that Pakistan is bound to win gold and silver in men’s individual squash.
Ghosal admitted that he was not playing at his best. “I didn’t play as well as I am capable of playing but I don’t want to make any excuses. Pakistan is not as strong as they were in the 80s and the 90s but they have always produced good players. I am extremely disappointed that we are not in the final at a big event hosted at home. There are always expectations when you play at home, more so when we play Pakistan,” Ghosal said.
For Iqbal and Zaman, who are here without a coach because of visa-related issues, playing each other in the final is a small step in their quest to live up to the expectations of hailing from a country which boasts a rich tradition of world beaters. “We live in the shadows of our great players. We are aware that we will always be compared to the Khans (Jahangir and Jansher). Such wins over India make us believe that Pakistan squash is making progress again,” Zaman said after his win over Ghosal.
The all-Pakistan men’s final at the RG Baruah Sports Complex in Ulubari on Monday will check India’s gold rush at the Games, albeit briefly.
On home turf, India show mettle
Hockey: women win 24-0
Indian women’s hockey team began their campaign with a 24-0 mauling of a hapless Nepal in a completely lopsided round robin league match. Strikers Soundarya Yendala (15th, 52nd, 62nd and 64th minutes) and Poonam Barla (7th, 472nd, 43rd and 51st) scored the most with four strikes each. Four players – Rani (2nd, 46th and 48th), Jaspreet Kaur (4th, 35th and 56th), Neha Goyal (14th, 22nd and 70th) and Deepika (53rd, 62nd and 67th) – scored three goals each while Gurjit Kaur (21st and 41st) and Preeti Dubey (23rd and 29th) got the other goals for India. The men, meanwhile, eased past Bangladesh 4-1.
10 medals in the pool
India scooped 10 medals, including four gold, from the pool to continue its dominance in swimming with Sandeep Sejwal picking his second yellow metal of the competition on Sunday. As many as five Games record were created out of the seven events with the Indians accounting for three of them, including Sejwal’s. India collected four gold, five silver and a bronze from the pool, adding to the 11 medals won on Saturday. Sri Lanka took two gold, one silver and two bronze while Bangladesh bagged a gold and two bronze.
Lifters clinch 6 golds
India continued their overwhelming dominance in the weightlifting event by bagging three more gold medals on the second day of competitions on Sunday. Saraswati Rout (women’s 58 kg), Sambo Lapung (men’s 69 kg) and Ajay Singh (men’s 77 kg) won a gold each today to take India’s medal tally from weightlifting to six gold in two days out of the eight on offer.
Gone in 15 minutes
PV Sindhu took just 15 minutes to beat her opponent as India’s women shuttlers began their campaign with an easy 3-0 win over their Nepalese opponents. Sindhu beat Sara Devi Tamang 21-2 and 21-8. Gadde Ruthvika Shivani used her height to advantage to breeze past Nangsal Tamang 21-6 21-2 in 15 minutes to make it 2-0 for the hosts. India soon completed the formality when Sindhu partnered Ashwini Ponnappa to get the better of Sara-Nangsal 21-10 21-8 in 25 minutes. Meanwhile in men’s event, India beat Afghanistan 3-0 with Ajay Jayram, HS Prannoy, Akshay Dewalkar and Pranav Chopra securing another facile victory to top Group A.
Second string, but still best
Despite sending a second-string team, India proved too strong for their opponents in wrestling competition as the home grapplers grabbed four more gold medals and a silver to rule the roost. 2013 Asian Championships winner Amit Dhankar (men’s 70kg freestyle), Pradeep (men’s 61kg freestyle), Mamta (women’s 53kg) and Manju Kumari (women’s 58kg) won a gold each while Gopal yadav had to settle for a silver in men’s 86kg freestyle after losing to Pakistan’s Mohd. Imam in the final bout. India have so far won nine gold medals in the two days out of the 10 on offer.