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Indian squash's British Cycling-esque revival - Part I

On der Wille

1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze - the haul from a single Asian games. A Commonwealth games gold in Women's doubles. This is Indian squash's total for a single year - 2014. Indian squash also sent its' first representative into the World Junior semi finals this year and boasts a top 20 player in both Men's and Women's. Squash, like most other sports in India, never had it this good. Most others still don't. But how did a nation in which squash is still an elitist sport, played mostly in gentlemen clubs and boarding schools, conquer Asia and become a force to be reckoned with on the world stage?

This is a three part investigation into Indian squash's success story.

The tall lanky player wanted to come out of the glass cauldron deep in the fifth game. Close to 500 people packed in the arena, the air was heavier that what Chennai air already is. He wanted to throw up courtside. He was pushing himself that hard. His coach, also his father, asked him to stay on. Three mammoth rallies later, he emerged from the glass court a beaten man. Beaten in five sets in the final of the under-15 national championship. The year was 2003, the winner Hariderpal Singh Sandhu - a 14 year old on that day. Almost 11 years to the day, he beat a former World No. 9, punching way above his weight, to set India on its' way to claiming the gold in Incheon, Korea. The beaten man, Vikram Malhotra, would go on to become the only Indian to clinch a national title in each age group, from the under-11s to the under-19s and eventually lead Trinity University to three national inter collegiate titles. India's success has been forged in this very place - the India Squash Academy in Chennai. Every now and then a player like Vikram emerges, one who thrives outside the structure of the national academy, however India's success is down to the planning, training and scheduling that happens in the offices above, behind and below India's best squash courts.

In the greatest traditions of sports teams and institutions around the world, the Indian Squash Academy hosts both the players and the officials. Think the Twickenham-Pennyhill combine of English Rugby, National Cycling Center in Manchester which houses Team GB (and the mastermind Sir Dave Brailsford), National Squash Center in Manchester. This is what St. George's Park aspires to be for English football - a nerve center. A center of excellence. A base from which a single sporting philosophy trickles down to the rest of the playing clubs/states/districts. This is the biggest factor Indian Squash got right - they set up the India Cements Squash Academy in right earnest, in early 2001. It boasts eight courts - one a stunning all glass court. It also houses the offices of national coach, Cyrus Poncha and the consultant coach Major S. Maniam (Malaysian Army).

N. Ramachandran, a sports administrator and part owner of India Cements, is the driving force behind setting up the academy. Some might know him as the brother of the all powerful former BCCI president N. Srinivasan. N. Ramachandran is also now the President of the World Squash Federation and the Indian Olympic Association. A joke doing the rounds is that one brother controls 80% of the money in Indian sport whereas the other controls 80% of Indian sports. Whatever the merits of this oligarchy, it hasn't done Indian squash any harm. None of the the brazen commercial exploitation of the cricketers is seen here. It has become a hub for sporting pursuit in its truest and richest tradition - the amateur athlete - labouring away for world and continental titles, whilst still pursuing an education. The athlete for whom the Olympic Games were designed. It has turned into home for many of India's best squash players. In December 2002, Ramachandran stated, "India will win a medal in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar and produce a junior world champion in the next 10 years".

Phil and Bill - Comparing the greatest NBA and NFL coaches of my life to date.

On The 4 Hour Struggle

Phil Jackson: 6'8", athletic, and charismatic. A former player that had the respect of everyone. 11 rings as a head coach and 2 as a player. A practitioner of Zen Buddhism.

Bill Belichick -- Too small to play football, son of a coach and scout. Uncharismatic, but has been studying film since he was 9 years old. He gained respect by his knowledge of the game. 4 rings as a head coach and 2 as a defensive coordinator.

Jackson was a master of dealing with egos. In the NBA, guys like Kobe, Jordan, Shaq, don't come around very often. So as a head coach, it is much more difficult to have only "your type of guys" if you want to win an NBA championship when compared to the NFL.

When Chicago was going on their 2nd run, they recognized a need for interior defense. After clearing it with Scottie and Michael, they traded for Dennis Rodman and Phil assimilated the enigmatic player into a key piece in the 1996-98 3peat.

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