2:16 am
16 Apr 2024

India & Malaysia Strike Asian Games Team Gold

1 Oct 2023

India came back from the brink to win their second men's title and Malaysia won their third women's title as the team squash events concluded at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

In perhaps one of the Asian Games' greatest ever finals, top seeds India recovered from being two championship balls down to overcome Pakistan and avenge earlier their pools stage defeat.

That loss to their rivals seemed to spur the top seeds in the final as they edged past a Pakistan team that has played well above their No.4 seeding at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre.

Pakistan made an ideal start to the tie when their third string Nasir Iqbal comfortably saw off Mahesh Mangaonkar - one of three players in the India team who played in the 2014 title-winning side - 11-8, 11-3, 11-2 in 29 minutes.

Indian first string Saurav Ghosal, playing in his sixth Asian Games, rapidly chalked off the deficit with a 3/0 win of his own against Muhammad Asim Khan to take the tie into a third match.

In a riveting encounter, played in a bear-pit atmosphere of partisan India and Pakistan fans, second strings Abhay Singh and Noor Zaman played out a thriller that went to the wire.

Zaman was on top for much of the clash, with the 19-year-old powerful around the court as he recovered from dropping the first game with two fiercely contested wins to move into a 2/1 lead.

The 2023 Asian Junior Team Champion came close to sealing the win in game four when he went 9-7 up, but was pegged back by tremendous resistance from Singh, who took four consecutive points to level the deciding match and take the contest into a fifth game.

Once more Zaman looked like he had done enough, earning two championship balls at 10-8.

Singh, however, rallied spectacularly, covering every inch of the court to keep the ball alive as he once more went on a scoring run, taking four consecutive points yet again to force a tie break and then take the match 12-10 to complete a remarkable comeback.

Afterwards, Singh said: "If this the last Asian Games for any of [Saurav Ghosal, Mahesh Mangaonkar, Harinder Sandhu], this one is for them. This one is for the three boys who came back.

"I have to do something for them, for all the sacrifices they have put in to be here, to send them out in a good way.

"It's for them but most importantly for my country."

The day's first final pitched women's defending champions and top seeds Hong Kong against No.2 seeds and two-time winners Malaysia.

In a tense opening match between third strings Tsz-Wing Tong and Rachel Arnold, it was Tong who was able to put her side into the lead, with the world No.41 coming from behind to take down the world No.32.

Luckily for Malaysia, first string Sivasangari Subramaniam - who returned to squash earlier this year following a serious traffic accident in 2022 - was in devastating form. The hard-hitting 24-year-old, part of the Malaysia team that crashed out in the semi-finals last time, quickly restored parity with an efficient 3/0 win over Tomato Ho.

In an exciting third match it was 21-year-old second string Aifa Azman, who like Subramaniam missed out in Jakarta 2018, who proved the hero for Malaysia.

The world No.23 made a quick start to the final match as she raced into a 2/0 lead.

Azman came agonisingly close to finishing it in three games, but could not convert championship ball at 11-10 as Sin Yuk Chan clung on to force another game with a 13-11 win.

The Malaysian, though, came back furiously in game four as she blasted her way into a 7-1 lead. Although Chan began to chip away and even saved one more championship ball at 10-7, Azman's lead proved to be enough as she edged over the line 11-8 to return the gold to Malaysian hands.

Afterwards, Azman said: "I've never played a deciding match before in my entire life, I think - I was surprised I wasn't nervous when I went inside.

"Today, I knew how to handle the pressure and I went inside with a really good game plan."