Saurav Ghosal beats best friend, wins historic bronze
James Willstrop had beaten long-time friend Saurav Ghosal eight out of nine times before Wednesday, almost always in a convincing fashion within three games. Both coached by Willstrop’s legendary father-coach Malcolm, know each other’s game like the back of their hands. Willstrop was also the defending Commonwealth Games champion. Until the Indian squash No 1 finally turned the tide of their history and beat the 38-year-old Englishman to take the bronze medal at the Birmingham CWG.
Ghosal’s promising career, given credence when he won the British Junior’s title in 2004, has seen its ups and downs. He has won titles across the world but when it came to the big one, he always slipped agonisingly close to his final frontier. A medal at the Commonwealth Games was, in his words, ‘the gloss’ missing from his trophy cabinet. A trophy cabinet that could have been further filled if not for the near misses.
Three years ago, Saurav Ghosal was in a battle with the Egyptian known as ‘Beast’. Mohamed El-Shorbagy was the current World No 2 and Ghosal was in the fight of his life at the World Championship quarter-finals. Then a 33-year-old, Ghosal had spent 15 years on the squash circuit and if things went his way, this would have been the biggest fish he ever reeled in his career.
Ghosal had the chance to change how his history read once again on Tuesday when he took on yet another World No 2 in New Zealand’s Peter Coll. But the lanky Kiwi was operating on a different stratosphere, combining his other worldly reach to fish out the tightest of angles while using his superior athleticism to counter whatever Ghosal had to offer. By the third game, the Indian had emptied his tank out, trying a variation of shots against his Kiwi conqueror. The effort had taken enough out of him for one to believe that the bronze medal match in a day’s time was likely out of the question. Ghosal disagreed.
There is also the historical precedent of him having lost his bronze medal match at the 2014 Glasgow Games – against Willstrop to boot. But that elusive singles title that he had been chasing for years finally landed here in Birmingham.
Winning a singles medal at the Commonwealth Games has been the one goal that was Ghosh’s final frontier. His confidence going into the 2018 Gold Coast event was sky high. Talking about his preparations, Ghosal had told journalists at the time that he was scheduling his events before the Games in such a manner that he would get a week or two’s worth of rest before pushing his body again. But a shock exit in the first round meant that his dream of winning a Commonwealth medal was looking bleak.
Cut to four years later and the leadup to these Birmingham Games has been subdued. Older now, Ghosal silently went through the field, easing past Sri Lanka’s Shamil Wakeel 11-4, 11-4, 11-6. His first match of the CWG was a perfect warm-up session – a three-game quick turnaround that allowed him to conserve energy for tougher rounds later into the tournament.