India’s pre-eminent racquet-wielder Dipika Pallikal would be treading the sunset of her now luminescent career.
If squash is to make its much sought-after Olympic debut in the 2020 Olympics, India’s pre-eminent racquet-wielder Dipika Pallikal would be treading the sunset of her now luminescent career. But she would still be the central figure in Indian squash, for she, by breaching into the top 10 in the world rankings, has set a precedent for fledging squash players in the country.
The 21-year-old’s career graph makes for an impressive reading — one of a steady trudge than steep ascent — but the efforts that went behind the making of world number 10 Dipika Pallikal warrants as much notice. She started off at the Indian Squash Academy, the basics imbibed to her by the gregarious Major Maniam, technical director of the Academy, and nurtured by national coach Cyrus Poncha. Until 16, she was a regular trainee at the Academy.
Had she stayed put, she would have still been a competitive proposition, but whether she would have raised the versatility in her game to such a level as this would be debatable. The Egyptian expedition, under Amir Wagih, lent more craft and guile into her armoury, besides wringing a splash of Egypt’s artistry. She left Egypt a considerably improved player, capable of an odd upset or two.
The switch to Australia, under the tutelage of five-time world champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald, saw her game enhance further. The brazen edges were smoothed off and her often phlegmatic temperament was modulated to more acceptable levels. The enhancements in her game per say are more than visible, but it’s the mind that’s making more of a difference to Dipika’s game. Whence once she was prone to bouts of petulance, she now has the typical Aussie remorselessness to mow down her opponent till the match ball. While the swing and volleying are the most perceptible changes, her coach believes she’s greatly improved her body language, crucial in a sport where players try bossing over their opponents and mark their territories.
Dipika’s is an ideal template for her successors; thankfully the Academy has guaranteed Indian squash of a decent supply chain. For example, Anaka Alankamony, the brightest young star on India’s squash horizon. Only 18, she already owns a couple of WISPA titles and a career-best ranking of 59 (June 2010). Though academics did hamper her progress, she has crept her way back into the top 75, and looks set for a promising future. An overseas stint a la Dipika could only better her game and add new dimensions to her already rich array of strokes. Her game has the pre-requisites to blossom at the highest level, only that she lacks sufficient exposure, which overseas programs could sufficiently equip her with.
Aparajitha Balamurukan is another up-and-coming Academy product, though after reaching a career-best ranking of 77 in 2010, her ranking has dropped to a middling 135 at the latest. Provided she can compete in more tournaments, her ranking too could improve.
Perhaps the most hyped-about youngster is 15-year-old Harshit Kaur Jawanda from Delhi, who is already in the national reckoning. And any routine visit to the ISA in Chetpet will leave you gasping with young squash players training rigorously. The talent pool is more than perceptible, while in Dipika they have they found the stimulus. And that would be Dipika’s lasting legacy to the game, to inspire a generation to a sport that craves for global attention.