The Squash Racquet Federation of India (SRFI) has literally bid adieu to its chances in the Asian Championships in Kuwait, scheduled in the second week of February, by not including Dipika Pallikal - the British junior squash champion - in the squad.
Sticking to their stand, National coach Cyrus Poncha on Wednesday reiterated that Pallikal wouldn't be considered at all for she had "not reported for the trials in Chennai" for the selection of the team last month. Incidentally, Pallikal had told HT that she had come all the way from Egypt after receiving the letter from SRFI but could not take part in the trials because of a back injury.
When told that three male players - Ritwick Bhattacharya, Saurav Ghoshal and Siddharth Suchde - too didn't attend the trials, the Dronacharya Awardee coach said that they had been "exempted from the trials" because they are "professional players and keep playing in international tournaments round the year," he said, adding "women were not exempted because they are not professionals."
Apparently, the coach - the recipient of the highest national honour for coaches - either forgot or doesn't have a clue about the WISPA (Women's International Squash Professional Association), wherein Indian women squash players - Joshna Chinappa and Pallikal - are ranked 43rd and 62nd, respectively. In fact, Saurav Ghoshal is ranked lower to Joshna at 49th on the men's PSA ranking, while Ritwick is 63rd, a rank below Pallikal. Moreover, both the women players have played more WISPA tournaments in comparison to their male counterparts on the PSA. So much for the women professionals!
Coming back to squad for the upcoming event, Surbhi Misra of Jaipur (ranked 156th) and unranked Harita Omprakash are a part of the squad. Interestingly, Surbhi, it is learnt, isn't fully fit and is recuperating from a wrist injury. "I am leaving for Kuwait on February 11," said Surbhi from Chennai. She disconnected the phone abruptly when asked about her injury. "Surbhi had injured her left wrist, not the one she plays with, and hence she was picked," said Poncha, defending her selection.
The absence of Dipika would put burden on Joshna, and India will have their task cut out against powerhouses like Malaysia and Hong Kong, which have much higher ranked players like Nicole David (Malaysia) and Rebecca Chiu (Hong Kong) in their ranks. India could have given tough fight to Korea and Japan, which have their second ranked players placed lower than Pallikal. But the chances seem ruined here as well now.
Interestingly, the go-ahead to the team was given at the Departmental Committee Meeting of the Sports Ministry without even bothering to go by the norms. The government observer for squash, Brig Manchanda, had said a few days back he was not called by the SRFI during selections and thus the question of giving a report didn't arise.
A senior ministry official, on condition of anonymity, said the team had only been given 'administrative' and not 'financial' clearance. Did the government observer submit his report on players? "Look, they (SRFI) are footing the bill, we have only given them administrative clearance," he said.
For the ministry, the priority of squash and the prestige of the country can take a walk.