It was almost as if this script was written with India in mind. And, perhaps it was.
In December 2006, India won a rare bronze medal for squash in the last Asian Games at Doha. But, in an equally rare circumstance and one that is peculiar, India knew they were assured of a bronze even before the quarterfinals began.
<b1>How? Well, the quarterfinal draw saw Indians Ritwick Bhattacharya and Saurav Ghosal pitted against each other in the lower half. One of them would naturally go through to the semifinal and in the Asian Games, if you reach the last four, you are assured of at least a bronze.
Two things must be noted here. First, only two players per country are allowed. And if both reach the quarterfinal, then there are written guidelines that are generally followed. According to the Asian Squash Federation (ASF) rulebook for events like the Asian Games: “It is customary to ensure that wherever possible players of the same nationality do not meet each other in the first round and are preferably separated into the top and bottom halves of the draw.”
With just two players of every nationality participating in the Games, it was strange (at the very least) how the two Indian seeded players were clubbed in the lower half of the draw, while the two Pakistani seeds — Mansoor Zaman and Aamir Atlas — came together in the upper half.
It also was extremely convenient (or lucky), that with players from 15 Asian countries, ranging from Jordan to the Philippines in a draw of 32, only Indian and Pakistani players were clubbed in the same sides.
Now who made the Asian Games draw and where?
On November 28, India’s national coach, Cyrus Poncha, announced the draw in Chennai in the presence of the ASF president and Squash Racquet Federation of India (SRFI) secretary, N Ramachandran. India’s national consultant coach S Maniam (also Ghoshal’s coach) set the seedings, while Fahim Gul (the Pakistani national coach) and Tony Choi of the Malaysian federation were the other members of the draw committee.
The Indian government appointed an observer for squash, Brigadier Raj Manchanda - a six-time national champion himself – who looked into the matter and his remarks in his final report to the Ministry (a copy of which is with the Hindustan Times) make for interesting reading. “At the Asian Games 2006, we had the distinction of getting the bronze. This would have been indeed a very commendable achievement in the face of formidable players from Malaysia and Pakistan. However, our players did not have to play them till the semifinals; they played each other in the quarterfinal (second round), which ensured a place for an Indian player in the semifinal and thus a bronze medal. The draws were made by the SRFI-run ASF and credit goes to them for making a draw like that…”
He continued, “… it would, however, have been much more satisfying if the bronze had been won with our two top players in different halves of the draw - as is done in all individual games where there are only two participants per country - rather than clubbing them in the same half against each other in the quarterfinal which ensured a bronze medal.”
At the Asian Championships held in Taiwan in February 2006, the PSA (Professional Squash Association)/WISPA (Women’s International Squash Professional Association) rankings were used to make the draw, which is the norm. Four Pakistanis made the quarters but did not play each other till the semifinals. Both Bhattacharya (5) and Ghoshal (6) lost to Pakistan’s Mansoor Zaman (4) and Shahid Zaman (3) respectively. Thus, no Indian made the semifinals.
At the Asian Games, the PSA/WISPA ranking wasn’t used. This only happens when the rankings of players have not been documented or there is a discrepancy on their current form. A majority of those who played the Asian Championships and the Asian Games were common, so this was not the case here.
Ramachandran could not be contacted despite repeated attempts over several days to seek clarity on the matter. But all of what we have stated here is documented. India winning medals in multidisciplinary events is rare. So they are extremely lucky that at least this one was ensured.