CHENNAI: Ask Steve Cubbins what the most exotic squash court he has seen and he will go on a geography lesson. The Englishman, who was handling social media for the 19th Asian Squash Championships held in Chennai recently, travels the world covering the sport and has been to more tournaments than most in India.
“The best one in recent times is the Pyramids,” he says. “That was special. Outside the courts, we were being housed in this hotel right next to the venue and we got to have breakfast gazing at the Pyramids every day. But there were other special ones too.
We had a court set up in the Hong Kong harbour and the players played as the ships whizzed by. We have an annual tournament in London’s Canary Wharf where the atmosphere is special. And there was one in downtown Cairo that was just buzzing because of the people who came to see it.”
The court that was set up in the middle of the Express Avenue mall might have paled in comparison to the Pyramids, itwas still a special sight. A glass cage with a small area surrounding it for players and officials was what the organisers set up. But from there, the ambiance at the mall was taking over. Teenagers out for a movie, families on a shopping trip — their heads tilted towards the action as they rode up elevators and peered over anxiously from the three floors above.
An overwhelming majority of them had no idea about squash, but what better way to introduce the sport to a wider audience? And the spectacle at the mall is exactly why squash, in its modern form, works. You can just set up a court anywhere you want and play.
Despite damages to the flooring halting play on a day, the glass courts at Express Avenue had served its purpose. While setting up a glass cage might seem like little fuss, a lot of work (and money) goes into it. The one at Express Avenue had been brought from Mumbai and assembled here.
“It belongs to a private individual and we rent it,” says former World Squash Federation president Ramachandran. “So this one travels all over the country.” The glass is from Germany, it has to meet certain standards as brittleness can be dangerous when players crash into it. Officials refused to divulge how much money went into this, but Cubbins estimated any decent glass court will cost upwards of $20,000 (around `13 lakhs).
While the first glass courts — fishbowls, they call it — can be traced all the way back to the 1980s, they started becoming more commonplace around ten years ago. “Glass courts are the future,” said Indian coach Cyrus Poncha.
“The era of the traditional squash courts are over. In a closed court, we would have had a few thousand people at most. But with a glass court, the sport suddenly becomes a lot more spectator friendly. Here, by the time the tournament is over, we would have had tens of thousands of people see it. Ninety five per cent of the people haven’t seen squash before. But now they know what’s going on,” said Poncha.
It’s a view that N Ramachandran echoed. “When we first held tournaments, we were struggling to get sponsors,” he said. “But then we held one on the beach, another at Express Avenue a few years ago, and that helped a lot in taking the sport to the public.
Finding sponsors for this tournament was a lot easier.”
“A lot of the kids who stumble upon the sport here are encouraged to take it up,” says the former head of the world squash body. “There are youngsters playing now who say they were first introduced to the sport when we last held it at Express Avenue.”