“12-10 in the fifth, in the decider of the Asian Games gold medal match, India vs Pakistan, how do you write it!” exclaimed Abhay Singh, encapsulating the intensity of the moment. Abhay Singh, a squash player for India, who contemplated quitting the sport two years ago, expressed the emotions surrounding this unforgettable match. The dramatic and tension-filled encounter unfolded with an 11-7, 9-11, 8-11, 11-9, 12-10 victory, securing the squash gold medal. The match began with some discord, evolving into one of the classic India-Pakistan clashes. The veteran player Sourav Ghosal’s professional performance played a pivotal role in India’s comeback. The climax of this titanic clash witnessed scenes of elation and chaos, with Abhay Singh throwing his racket into the stands, Noor Zaman, his Pakistani opponent, in disbelief, and Harinder Pal Sandhu, another teammate, overwhelmed with emotions, climbing to the top of the court.
In the moments leading to this, Abhay and Zaman were locked in a fierce battle, resembling prizefighters in a cage, as the crowd roared in delight and shock, alternating chants for both countries. The 25-year-old Indian, carrying the weight of gold medal hopes, seemed on the brink of defeat moments before the remarkable turnaround. Facing two match points down in the deciding game, Abhay’s shoulders slumped, the Indian bench fell silent, and momentum appeared to shift decisively in Pakistan’s favor. “In your head, you have lost,” Abhay admitted.
However, from that seemingly insurmountable position, Abhay resurrected himself with courageous stroke play, securing four consecutive points to clinch the tie and propel India to a thrilling 2-1 victory over Pakistan, a once-dominant squash powerhouse, securing the team gold medal. This marked India’s second gold medal of the day, following Rohan Bopanna and Rutuja Bhosale’s tennis mixed doubles title, just before the historic triumph of the women’s doubles table tennis team of Suthirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee, who defeated Chinese world champions, Chen Meng and Yidi Wang, securing a spot in the semifinals and assuring themselves a medal.
Amidst significant victories across various sports, including tennis, table tennis, and track and field, the squash gold will be remembered for its relentless drama and sensational comeback. The victory had an added layer of sweetness for India as it was a grudge match, having lost to Pakistan in the preliminary round just three days earlier. It was particularly redemptive for Abhay, who had suffered a humbling defeat against Zaman. Sparks flew throughout the three-match tie, reminiscent of their encounter on Wednesday. After India’s loss in that match, veteran player Ghosal gathered his younger teammates, Abhay and Mahesh Mangaonkar, for a briefing.
“Both Abhay and Mahesh got very, very emotionally charged. It’s my belief that’s not the way to play them (Pakistan),” Ghosal said. “I told them yesterday you almost have to be robots. Literally, like no emotions. No emotion is more powerful than any other outward thing you can show.” Deviating from the initial strategy of maintaining emotional composure, India faced a challenging start. The first match, featuring Mangaonkar and Nasir Iqbal, transformed into an unpleasant encounter marked by frequent collisions, both inadvertent and strategic. Both players constantly complained to the umpire, alleging interference.
However, these tactics seemed to work against the Indian player, as Mangaonkar grew increasingly frustrated when the referee did not respond to his pleas. In addition to losing the technical aspects of the game, Mangaonkar also struggled mentally. Iqbal skillfully made him move across the court, employing the right angles, height, and placement to keep the ball away from Mangaonkar, particularly on the far side of the forehand. Iqbal secured the opener in straight games, putting the burden on Ghosal, India’s No. 1 player for 860 consecutive weeks. Ghosal, the player who had consistently upheld India’s squash standing, ensured that the team did not exit the tie quietly.