CHENNAI: “I didn’t know what was ahead. I never thought about playing. All I had in mind was if I will be able to do normal stuff again.” These were the words of Harinder Pal Sandhu on the sidelines of the Chennai leg of the HCL-SRFI India Tour. It was strange to see a player of Harinder’s calibre at a $20,000 PSA Challenger meet. At 30, he should be playing amongst the best in business at top-class competitions. And it looked like that was going to be the case nine months ago. But that’s when tragedy struck.
A freak injury meant Harinder was not sure if he would ever play squash again. “I had disk bulges and severe nerve impingements. I had scoliosis and my spine was a little to the left. I had already planned out my schedule for the year. But when I was playing at the Nationals in Delhi, I felt like someone was drilling a nail in my back. But I continued. The next morning, it became worse. After the tournament, I was on a car back home. By the time I reached there, I collapsed.”
A few months ago, Harinder was making headlines as a coach. After passing his Level 1 coaching exam, he was also a part of the Indian contingent that travelled to the Asian Individual Squash Championships to Malaysia. While he was injured, a lot of them assumed that he was planning for the future after many years as a professional. The injury did force him to take such a decision. But no one knew the extent of his suffering. “In the initial three months, I was literally not able to do anything by myself. Even while walking, I felt stiff. I had a lot of pain even while eating and sitting. It was a dark period,” Harinder said.
But as he beat fourth-seeded Shehab Essam 3-1 (11-5, 11-4, 8-11, 11-8) at the Indian Squash Academy on Monday, there were glimpses of what he could offer. Comebacks can be tricky and Harinder himself has done it a few years back.
But that was nothing compared to what had happened recently according to him. But Harinder knows that he doesn’t have much time. For now, the 2014 Asiad winner has kept his coaching aspirations aside. “Right now, I’m just doing basic stuff and keeping myself strong. I want to get my rankings up. But I will be happy to go as a coach if the federation wants me to. I just want to get back to normal fitness now. The Asian Championships was a good experience. I have a good relationship with all senior players. They respect me.”
With his career back on track, Harinder has his eyes firmly set on the 2022 Asian and Commonwealth Games. He is aware that it is a long shot. With the possibility of aggravating the injury, he knows he has to take it slow. “I want to play for India again. Then, play in bigger PSA’s. I lack a lot of match practice but hopefully, I can get back on track in the next few months.”