Abhay Singh, with the match and the gold medal on the line, was two points away from losing to Pakistan’s Noor Zaman in the fourth game. He took it to the fifth game, where he was down two match points. In both these moments, playing against your arch rivals, some may crumble under the pressure. But not Abhaya: he won four straight points from 7-9 down in the fourth game to force a fifth game and then won four straight points in the fifth game from 8-10 down to win India their tenth gold medal of the Hangzhou Asian Games – the squash men’s team gold – and only India’s second Asian gold.
Abhay’s match was a fitting way to end a tie that had no shortage of drama. It started in the first match between Mahesh Mangaonkar and Nasir Iqbal, which Pakistan won, then stalled as Sourav Ghoshal removed Muhammad Asim Khan, and then made his presence felt at almost every point in the decider.
Demanding an in-match massage from your opponent, you’ll see the classic Bollywood hero leaning against the glass wall in the most distressed pose and some exaggerated expressions of surprise. It was as much a film as a squash match. There were no villains, it was a sports encounter, but there were heroes.
The players dealt with the drama in different ways – Mahesh swallowed it and at times seemed to forget that he had a game to play. After the referees awarded Iqbal the point, he once shouted, “What a stroke. The match sometimes turned into a contact game, with both players pushing and running at each other’s backs. At one point, Iqbal fell to the floor after the collision, felt a significant impact on his right arm, and then proceeded to massage Mahesh.
The Indian was disturbed by the noise, and then lost his touch; Leading 6-3 in the first game, he won just 8 of the next 27 points to leave his teammates with no margin for error.
That’s what a great commercial movie does though – stack the cards against the hero and then watch him win. Circumstance wise, Abhay was the hero in the end, but Sourav had his trusty support act, to set up his moment of glory.
That match between Sourav and Asim Khan was the middle part where the audience came up for popcorn and cola refills. However, Ghoshal had one job – to keep India tied – and he did it with clinical precision. After falling behind 0-4 in the first game, he recovered to score 33 of the next 38 points.
Time for the climax but first, a flashback: earlier this week, Zaman had beaten Abhay as Pakistan beat India 2-1 in a pool-stage match. This script was written by myself.
Abhay started well and looked like he was in control of the proceedings winning the first game 11-7. But if the climax is plain sailing for the hero, it is not an Indian movie. Zaman roared back and found himself two points away from victory. Only for the inevitable twist for the hero.
And when, somehow, by the skin of his teeth, he won the final point to secure the gold medal, he threw his racket high, let out a primal roar and then watched his teammate Harinder Pal Sandhu step up to the glass. Court. Picture them all in slow motion, and you’ll see why it fits the movie business.
At the end of the day, a squash game was held between plays. India beat Pakistan only 2-1. All’s well that ends well. This movie even had his happy song – except it was played at the end, not the beginning. National Anthem.