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Having a purpose helped me get through the lockdown: Saurav Ghosal

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Having a purpose helped me get through the lockdown: Saurav Ghosal 2

The lockdown was a tough time for Saurav Ghosal too. But the senior squash player didn’t have any apprehensions about how his career would unfold in the post-pandemic world. What helped the world No. 13 get through the difficult time was his intent to improve his game and a purpose to move up the world rankings. He also kept himself busy with other things, like a web series titled The Finish Line. The eight-part series, that Ghosal is hosting, is an attempt to relive some of the historic moments of the Indian sports. Meanwhile, he also returned to his natural habitat — the squash court — at the beginning of the last month and is getting ready to play in the upcoming events. In an interaction with ET Sport, the seven-time Asian Games medallist spoke about life during lockdown days, finding motivation, his new avatar as a programme host, squash’s Olympic absence and more. Excerpts…

How difficult were the lockdown days for you?
Lockdown was difficult for everyone. For us as athletes, it was difficult because we didn’t have any idea when the things would start again, we didn’t have access to training facilities like squash courts. Luckily, I have a lawn in my building where I could do some physical stuff. So, that helped. Also, I kept myself busy doing other things. Thankfully, I was able to get back on court last month.

But like I said, it was difficult despite a lot of things that I have. But there are a lot of people who are struggling with even the basic things in life. If you have that perspective, it helps to get through these times and understand that there are more important things to worry about than just getting to a squash court. So yes, it’s been difficult but I have been in a decent place for the last 5-6 months and now I am training twice a day. Training-wise the routine is pretty much the same now. Of course, the life still isn’t the same because you don’t have many sources of interaction. But that’s something we all have to get used to for at least a certain amount of time before we either get a vaccine or the virus miraculously dies out and we can get back to living life normally.

For how long were you away from the squash court? How did it feel in your first few sessions post lockdown?
I returned to court on July 1 and the last time I had played before that was March 16. So that’s like three-and-a-half months. I was in touch with the sport a little bit, I was hitting the ball on the wall in my garage. Of course, getting rhythm in the hitting and in the movement, those things felt a little off. It’s still a work in progress to get back to exactly where you want to be, but it’s getting there.

A lot of athletes have talked about negative thoughts creeping in their minds because there was too much of spare time. Did you also have such an experience?
I wouldn’t say I had negative thoughts in terms of how my career is going to pan out. I have played for a long time. Of course, I was sad that the good part of the year was gone and I was not able to compete, that was something difficult to take but I tried to use this time to improve on things that I thought I needed to get higher up in the rankings and then compete at the very top. I found myself in a decent place in that sense where I have had my intent and purpose in terms of what I want to achieve in the rest of my career. I think that helped me to get through it. Also the people I have around me, including my family, helped me steer clear of having any major negative thoughts. I am quite happy about that.

What are the things you think you need to improve?
I am No. 13 in the world. Anybody in the top rankings in any sport wants to be world No. 1. So, there are things I need to get better at, I need to do certain things tactically better, physically in terms of movement on the court which I need to do better, in terms of executing certain game plans I need to do better. I have been trying to pick out things which are most acute in terms of improvement required and will try to get those things better. Hopefully, the work that I have put in will show in the time to come.

With so much uncertainty around, what kept you motivated?
At some level I felt that at some point the tournaments will start. I kept that in my mind. Of course at the beginning of the lockdown we had no idea when things would get back up and running. But like I said I have an idea what my goals are for the rest of my career and keeping that in mind and having that intent and purpose helped me to get through those periods.

As of now we kind of have an idea when the tournaments will start. (The Professional Squash Association has issued a provisional schedule). We have our first tournament starting from September 16 in Manchester, which is a silver event, but I am not sure yet whether I will play or not. After that we have five platinum events through October, November and December in Egypt, Qatar and Hong Kong. I am definitely planning to play those. So, those are the timelines that I am working with right now, and training towards so that I can do well.

How did you get involved with The Finish Line?
A few other people and I were brainstorming and thought it would be a good idea that an athlete is talking to another athlete and getting their side of the story across, kind of finding another angle to the normal kind of understanding of their stories. We decided to focus on the gold-winning moments or the week when they became the world champions to understand what they did in that week to peek into their minds to see what made them (champions).

Everyone faced challenges on their way to success. What they did to get past those challenges and produce some of the best performances of their lives on the biggest stages in their sport. Obviously, what they achieved is a matter of great pride for every Indian but what we have tried to put across is the story behind their achievement in that week. There is a lot to learn and be inspired by. I was inspired by a lot of things these great athletes spoke about. I hope that it comes across and everyone feels the same when they watch it.

How was the experience of hosting a show? Did you enjoy it?
This was the first time I was doing something like this. So, that was exciting. I hope I have done a decent job. It’s actually a lot of work but it’s enjoyable as well. Doing something which I myself was very curious about, to speak to these people and understand what they went through. So that kind of added to the excitement and joy.

Athletes are accustomed to answering the questions from media and fans. How was the experience of being on the other side for a change?
I know. So, now I have added appreciation for you all (media persons) because I know how hard it is!

As this programme tries to relive some of the historic moments of the Indian sport, which is your favourite historic moment?
It’s very difficult to choose. Every athlete in his own way has done something so brilliant. It’s impossible to pick one. If I have to choose one person then it would be Abhinav Bindra. It’s also because of the fact that I know him on a personal level and we speak often. He is someone who I think is pretty articulate and very meticulous with what he does. There is a lot that anyone can learn from his story. I think I am being biased towards him because I am probably the closest to him in all the people that I have interviewed. But all the other seven have brilliant stories, they all have done brilliantly. But if you make me choose, I would say Abhinav. Also, he is the only individual Olympic gold medallist in India. It’s a big thing in itself.

So, let’s put Abhinav Bindra aside because you are very close to him. Out of the remaining seven, which interaction did you enjoy the most?
All the guests are going to come one by one and kill me! All the interactions were brilliant. Everyone has something different to offer, everyone has a different mindset, and that’s what made it enjoyable for me. They have common threads in terms of how they go about their business but everyone has unique characteristics that make them stand out.

Is there any story that you came to know about during the show that impressed you a lot?
I did a lot of research for all the interviews. So, I knew almost everything that was there to know. In terms of getting inspired the most, there is a part about Vishwanathan Anand where he discusses what he did in preparation for his world championship match which I found very interesting. It was the reason why he went on to win it. It is something that takes a lot of courage to do. But I am not going to divulge the details. When you see the show you will know what I am talking about.

You yourself is a pretty successful player. Which one of your achievements you think would be good enough to be on this show?
The most memorable moment so far has been the 2014 Asian Games team gold. That’s the only gold medal at the Asian Games in squash that you have. It was brilliant because we had come close in Asian events on a couple of occasions but we never managed to win. To finally do it at the Asian Games was huge. Also, earlier that week I lost the individual final after being match ball up, and I was devastated. To come back from there and win the match to win India the gold was a sort of redemption for me. It was something that took away the pain a little. So, that has to be my most memorable moment yet.

Do you ever feel sad that squash is not part of the Olympics?
Of course! Olympics is the biggest platform that you can have and not being part of the Olympics is disappointing and frustrating on million levels. But we are not there and we can’t do anything about it. It’s not in our control. So, there is no point in constantly thinking about it. In my opinion, we should focus on growing the sport as well as we can internally and making it so big that one day, hopefully, the Olympics see value in it and invites us to be part of the Olympics. That would be a very proud day for squash.

Recently, you refused to share your physiological data for commercial purposes. You said the device was not comfortable to wear. Were there any other apprehensions?
I am not sure if I want my opponents to know when my heart rate is going up or down depending on how hard or easy the rallies are. That’s another part of the equation as well. But I didn’t even have to contemplate that part of the equation because the strap wasn’t working for me. So, it was easier for me take the decision than what it would have been if the equipment was working for me.

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