The rise and rise of Squash

The rise and rise of Squash

It was Sachin Tendulkar’s Birthday. Yet, Thane’s Squash-enthusiasts celebrated April 24 for other reasons – not only was it the "World Squash Day," it was also the birthday of their much-loved coach Sunil Verma. So how did they celebrate the day? Of course, by playing their favourite sport – and with as much fervour as they could garner! About two dozen kids from across Thane aged between 7 and 15 years, gathered at the Hiranandani Estate Club House, and played Squash until they could no more. What better gift could the coach expect!

This keen interest in a sport that was virtually non-existent in the city just a few years ago can be largely attributed to the springing up of residential clubs which provide high quality Squash Courts to their residents. And when the question of talent arises, there is no paucity of it in Thane. Already, as many as seven children from Thane have participated at various national- and state-level Squash championships organised by the NGO "Indian Squash Professionals," better known as ISP and Squash Racquets Association of Maharashtra. Some of these kids are also seeking participation at the Milo All Star Junior Squash Championships to be held in the first week of June 2004 in Malaysia.

Squash, for the uninitiated, is the newest of all racket sports. The sport was apparently invented at Harrow School in England by boys who kept knocking the ball on the wall awaiting their turn to play a game of rackets.

Across the country, the popularity of Squash is on a rise, not just among sport enthusiasts but also among celebrities. Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunny and Bobby Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Rakesh Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kapil Dev and Akshay Khanna are among those who play Squash. The sport enjoys the support of many influential people as well as large Indian companies like the Leela Group (Hotel chain) and Jindal Iron and Steel. Recently, when ISP organised the 50th Squash Championship, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee appreciated the sport in his letter saying, "Squash is gaining popularity both as a sport and as a means to achieve physical fitness." In another letter received by ISP the Big B Amitabh Bachchan says, "It will come as no surprise to all of us to soon see ‘India’ as a strong contender the world over, in this dynamic sport."

Despite this rise in status of Squash as a sport, it does not enjoy official status in Thane. One reason could be the lack of facilities. Until recently, there were only two Squash Courts in the city, both at the Dadoji Kondeo Stadium in Thane. The good news is that Verma, who is himself an official coach at the Jindal Squash Academy and member of ISP as well as SRAM, intends to change all this and is working towards getting official recognition for Squash in Thane. In order to promote Squash, Verma is planning a week-long camp mid next month. The camp will cover essentials of squash like field-training sessions, fitness and strength training, speed, squash technique and tactics and the importance of nutrition and diet. "In Squash, stamina is as important as technique – and if you dream of playing at the international level, then it is equally important to develop both your stamina and your technique to match world standards," the ace coach explains.

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