Thursday, January 14, 2010

Men Who Walk In the Shadows Of Gods

Squash has produced some amazing prodigies. Three whom I've seen play are Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan and Ramy Ashour. These are in the pantheon of squash gods, there probably will be none who can equal what they've done. That is until the next god of squash comes along. But what about all those other great players. I'm not even talking about these guys but those players who in the entire world are 300, 200, 100 and even 50 ranked? John White was once ranked 300 and something.

The top 15 players seem to play each other all the time. Has that the way it's always been, do we judge squash excellence on the play of those players? I think not. I think back years ago to when I saw Chris Stevens play, I would watch him play Anders Wahlstedt at Park Place Squash. Chris was ranked in the 80's, which I think was his best ranking. I loved to watch him play, he moved like a gazelle and played Anders well, himself a top 20 player. But if you watched these two play, it was absolute lyricism. I can still see young Chris push Anders around that beautiful court at Park Place, I am reminded of how Anders, a TOC qualifier, lost to Chris Ditmar in 20 minutes 0, 1, 0. Men among the gods. But did that make Anders any less a player? Absolutely not.

We are a bit spoiled by the availability of matches on the internet or DVD, I think, and mesmerized by this top 20 ranking and tournamet draws. There are so many great players out there who will never walk with the gods, let alone crawl with them. But they are amazing to watch! I feel lucky to have seen Chris Stevens play, I feel lucky to have seen Brad Hindle play, Chris Gordon, Julian Illingsworth (when he wasn't ranked top 50), Graham Basset, and a host of others within the top 300 players of the world. How many among us can say we are among the top 300 out of tens of thousands of players? Certainly not I.

I remind myself and my son all the time that you cannot measure your squash game against the likes of Ramy, Jahangir, or Jansher, if you do you simply will stop aspiring to play professionally. But John White, who was once ranked somewhere in the 300's eventually became number 1, yes, he walked in the sun with the gods! Will Graham Bassett become number 1 in the world, highly doubtful, but I've seen him play, it is beautiful squash. I was at the match when Jullian Illingsworth beat Ollie Thuommen and he seemed to be godlike that night and as an American beat the highest ranked player ever. But then I watched him play Ramy, and you know what, he played a bit like me.

That is the beauty of squash, if you love this game, no matter who plays it, a great rail is a great rail. I am on the court with a 3.5 player who hits short crosses over and over, but then suddely, with a bit of god at his side, he will hit the most beautiful cross court. A cross court that maybe Ramy can hit with a racquet without strings and Illingsworth hit a 100 times in his sleep, but nonetheless it's a beautiful cross court -- one out of 10,000.

I used to think Graham Ryding was a boring player, so mediocre. I only saw him play Jonathan Powers, who seemed to toy with him. But then my son showed me some of Graham's matches with other players. This is a player who was once, I think top 15, and what a player. While he walked in the shadows of one of those gods, outside those shadows, he was ever so close to being great...we should all be so lucky or really so gifted.

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