Western India History
CCI Squash: Looking back over five decades
By Raju Chainani
once wrote, "The Khans are to squash what Bach is to music".
Their glorious chapter began in 1944, the year in which Hashim Khan
travelled on the Frontier Mail from Peshawar to Bombay to participate in
the Western India Championships. He defeated CCI professional Abdul Bari
in the final. This was the beginning of a golden era. One wonders what may
have been had there been no Western India. Hashim returned to the CCI in
1945 and 1946 to successfully defend his title. To his credit Bari did not
relent to the pressure of returning to Pakistan after partition. Had he
done so, there may have been a different story to relate. In his book,
"Khans Unlimited", veteran sportscribe and Honorary Member of
the CCI, Dicky Rutnagur, has this to say on Hashim's first visit to
"The CCI was a vibrant club with a large and affluent membership. Its row of four courts, picturesquely set beside the swimming pool, were covered, had wooden flooring, which he had never seen before, and were overlooked by a gallery for spectators". In 1986, India's first glass-back court came up at the CCI and for good measure, a traditional court was added on.
Raj Kumar Narpat Singh, nine times winner of the Western India Men's event, was asked to do the honours. He ranked in the highest echelons of Indian squash and his record in the Western India remained till 1980 when Anil Nayar won his tenth title. "Anil Nayar was the only homegrown player of true class India ever produced. He was a winner of the Drysdale Cup in 1965", says Dicky Rutnagur. Indeed, Nayar was something out of the ordinary. His blinding speed and racket skills remain etched in memory and the general consensus is that he is the greatest player India has seen. Comparisons are often difficult, more so when one looks at the record and ability of Maj.K.S.Jain, Sanjit Roy, Ali Ispahani, Raj Manchanda, Ananth Nayak, Meherwan Daruvala and Adrian Ezra.
But at the end of the day, Anil Nayar stands out with his achievements at home and abroad. Nayar was fortunate to have Yusuf Khan as his coach. This was a key factor in his success story as Yusuf created a champion extraordinary. Yusuf belonged to an era, which had seen the likes of Hashim and Jamal Din. He was a master of the game as is clearly indicated by his nine Western India professional titles. Shortly after Nayar left for Harvard University in the late 1960s, Yusuf migrated to America and has remained as a highly respected and sought after coach.
In Nayar's heydays, the CCI team made up the core of the national squad. Fali Madon and Dinshaw Pandole were top rankers and had the benefit of Yusuf's training. The club continued to churn out national level players with the likes of Ananth Nayak and Adrian Ezra being prime examples. But that level of dominance, as was evident in the 1960s and 1970s, was missing. The Yusuf Khan era had seen the baton pass from the Services to CCI. It has wavered since as Manchanda, Daruvala and Ezra had their spells. It was much the same story in the juniors and of late, it has been the suburban clubs who have taken over.
Amongst the ladies, Deepika Chandratreya's victory in 1966 remains a talking point. Thirty-five years later, Deepika is still going strong. The fair sex had remained as ones who made up the numbers but this was to change from 1979 when the redoubtable Bhuvaneshwari Kumari came onto the scene. Winner of sixteen national titles, she left with a track record that will probably remain forever.
The halcyon days of Hashim, Jamal and Yusuf gave way to Anil Nayar and company. The wooden racket era had gone. Alongside came the glass-back court. But these were cosmetic changes. The Western India has always been regarded as the Wimbledon if Indian squash. There is a magnetic attraction that draws the country's best and when one looks at the roll of honour, the winner's list says it all.. The Western India remains is the country's longest running event, having had its baptism in 1944. Just for the record, the Nationals were started almost a decade later.
The Naval Tata Challenge Cup for the junior boys was initiated in 1949. Madhav Apte won it that year and went on to win the A.A.Jasdenvala Challege Cup, the symbol of supremacy in the men's in 1957. Only a handful of players achieved the double. Soli Lam, Sanjit Roy, Anil Nayar, Nikhil Senapati, Ananth Nayak, Meherwan Daruvala and Adrian Ezra figure prominently in this list. A boys under-14 event came about in 1977 and since then other age-groups have been added on. The days when it was prize money was restricted to the professionals gave way to an open era. But, with the Western India, there remained something special in winning it, something that mattered more than a fistful of rupees.
Like every game, the CCI has had it's share of characters. The late Ahmed Peermohamed was probably the best known as he served as the secretary of the national body for over a decade. Alas, "Peeru" is no more. But others remain, like a designer-nosed player and the hundred kilo plus "Humpty-Dumpty". They are part of the furniture and frankly, without such channels of entertainment, squash would be no fun.
On the international front, the club has seen Jahangir and Chris Dittmar play exhibition matches. Jansher made his debut at the Mahindra International in 1997 with the all-glass court, dubbed as "The Thuderdome" being set up on the hallowed turf of The Brabourne Stadium. It was a meeting of East with West. That year, Peter Nicol won and the trophy went with him to Scotland. Sadly, this was the last Mahindra International to be staged in the metropolis. Perhaps it will come back one day. Whether it does or doesn't is another story. The young and the old, the good and the not-so-good, the chewing-gum brigade and the dainty dollies, all keep coming to the CCI. This after all, is the home of Indian squash.
By Raju Chainani
|The story begins in 1944. Abdul Majid, regarded
as the founding father of Pakistan squash, persuaded Hashim Khan to play
in the professionals event of the CCI Open Championships of Western India.
Hashim left Peshawar by the Frontier Mail. He reached the venue and was
absolutely fascinated by the row of four courts, picturesquely set beside
the swimming pool. They were covered and had wooden flooring, something he
had never seen before.
The CCI professional was Abdul Bari, a distant relative of Hashim. Both had their roots in Nawakille on the famous North West Frontier. Hashim beat Bari in the Western India final and did so again in the following two years. In 1950, Bari was sponsored by the CCI members to play in the British Open. He lost to Egypt's Mahmoud el Karim in the final.
Before he left England, Mr.Habib Rahimtoola, Pakistan's High Commissioner in London, tried to persuade him to return to Pakistan and represent the country. Bari had a bond with the CCI and would not give it up. Had he opted to cross over, the world may not have seen the golden era of the Khans.
Sadly, Bari died of brain haemorrhage in 1954. By that time, the Westen India was in its tenth year. The likes of K.K.Hazari and Raj Kumar Narpat Singh had etched their names on the men's trophy. The Services players were soon to dominate. Maj.K.S.Jain was their spearhead and till the early 1960s, there was many an armyman who made the headlines.
Anil Nayar changed it all. He had a notable double in 1965, winning the men's and junior's titles, that too with his left arm heavily strapped. Talk of the Westen India and the CCI and Nayar's name is synonomous with it. He had Fali Madon, Dinshaw Pandole, Sanjit Roy and the services brigade of Pran Handa, K.S.Swaminathan, Ashok Saidha and later, Raj Manchanda as the main challengers.
Nayar had the legendary Yusuf Khan as his coach. Yusuf transformed the game at the CCI and the likes of Madon, Pandole and many others who trained with him have never forgotten the maestro's music. Even today, he keeps in touch with friends here, enquiring about the juniors, some of who had a chance to play with him in Seattle.
Sanjit Roy who had the distinction of beating Nayar on home turf. He was a connessieur's delight. The boast, in particular, was a stroke of majestical elegance, played late and to near perfection. In the long run he had to bow to Nayar but it was never an easy match to call.
The Bombay era had begun. Even in the juniors, where the cadets from the NDA used to make hay, there came a crop of youngsters and the bandwagon has continued to roll till today. Raj Manchanda took over from Nayar but the tide turned again as Meherwan Daruvala and Adrian Ezra graduated from the junior ranks with flying colours.
Amongst the ladies, Bhuvaneshwari Kumari towers above the rest. Her cousins, Nandini Kumari and Honey Sherman did well at the CCI. The evergreen Deepika Chandratreya won this event in 1974 and she's still going strong. We take a bow, dear "Mother of Squash".
The four courts that Hashim saw in 1944 have increased to six. CCI had the country's first glass-back. In days gone by, the top CCI players made up the national side. There was an intrinsic joy of playing in this tournament which was regarded as the Wimbledon of Indian squash. Those were the days.....will they ever come back?
INVITATION SQUASH TOURNAMENT
World No 19 Mohammed Azlan Iskandar lived up to his reputation of being the favourite and expectedly overcame the initial challenge of India No 2 Ritwik Bhattacharya to clinch the inaugural CCI-Ezra Invitational Squash Tournament with a clinical 9-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-4 triumph in a keen contest at the Cricket Club of India yesterday.
“I am a bit surprised that Ritwik is ranked No 96 in the world. He just proved that he is fit and can keep up with the top 20. It’s just that he committed unforced errors today, that allowed me back into the game,” explained Iskandar after the final.
Earlier, Akhilesh Nayak shrugged off a strong challenge from a defiant Aadit Zaveri to claim the Junior crown following a thrilling 11-10 (4-2), 11-10 (2-0), 6-11, 11-8 victory for his first major title.
Nayak, a product of the CCI Squash Academy, put into practice what is preached at the academy and was rewarded a prize that will be utilised for either his training or travel expenses for tournaments.
Aditya Gupta ended the winning spree of the formidable Pranay Merchant with a 11-6, 11-10 (2-0), 8-11, 11-10 (3-1) win in the juniors play-off for third-fourth places.
Elite favourite Iskandar was taken aback by Ritwik’s initial enthusiasm that saw the Indian surprisingly dominate the opening game. Ritwik’s determination to prove a point briefly scared the Malaysian No 2 who was forced to surrender the game.
Though Iskandar took the next three games and the match, Ritwik ensured he did not bow down in disgrace as he gave his much-accomplished rival a tough time.
In the process, Ritwik, who recently recovered from a serious knee injury, announced that he was here to stay.
“Though I lost I am delighted with the way I played. I had quite a good match. I just didn’t happen to last out,” said reasoned Ritwik.
Iskandar earned US$2500, while Ritwik received US$1500.
Peter Genever of Great Britain prevailed over Timothy Arnold of Malaysia in the play-off for third-fourth places.
Juniors Finals : Akhilesh Nayak bt Aadit Zaveri 11-10 (4-2), 11-10
(2-0), 6-11, 11-8;