When most of his age are glued to X-box consoles and android smart phones, life oscillating between girlfriends and academics, he is pitted in a glass-shrouded corral, swatting the sticky ball that comes depleted off the wall. The repeated stop-starts involved put the knees and back under heavy stress. And when someone arrives who appears easy of carriage and sound of orientation on court, one is forced to take notice. Kush Kumar, hence, can’t be missed.
The reigning U-17 Asian champion is a deviant of his age and times, but he hardly misses those slight endeavors of the usual teen. “I’m like any other teenager. I hang out with my friends, go for movies, visit restaurants and listen to music. But everything comes after squash. I am ready to sacrifice everything to be a better player,” he beams.
Kush was hardly 13 when he relinquished the cushy climes of his hometown, Dhampur, a suburb of Delhi, to the more competitive courts of the Indian Squash Academy. “During an event in Delhi, Cyrus (Poncha) sir told me that training in the academy would be better for me. I didn’t think twice, for I hardly had any competition in Delhi, but had to convince my parents. Because Chennai was also better for academics, my father agreed,” he recounted his arrival to the city.
Initially he was homesick, but once he befriended with fellow trainees, he began enjoying his life in the city. “But once I started making friends, everything changed and the academy became a happier place. I started enjoying the training sessions and the school. Now I can’t stay away from the academy and I go home only in vacations,” said Kush, who will train with the legendary Malcolm Willstrop for two months.
If winning the Asian Junior Championship last year was an indication of his burgeoning prowess, the gold in the Nanjing Youth Games was a further vindication of his precocity. “There was slight pressure on me since I was the top seed. And there were times when my game was erratic, and I lost a game in almost every match. But I always trusted my ability and worked hard,” he reflected.
Though only 17, he knows persistence and consistency often score over flashes of brilliance. “I like to play a steady game. Initially, I used to play a lot of flashy strokes, but then my coaches told me that unless I have perfected those shots, I shouldn’t try those. For there is little margin for error,” he said.
An admirer of the legendary Ramy Ashour, Kush backs his potential with hard work. “I have to make my game faster so that I can mix my tempo, lest I become one-dimensional. I am working on all aspects of the game and it has to be an ongoing process. One can keep improving until you stop playing. Presently, I am working on volleying,” he said. It’s this maturity that singles him out from the rest.