Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Journey Continues...

It all started when Malik inadvertently put forward a request I couldn’t refuse… a chance to play in the forthcoming SUKAD tournament. This time, SUKAD will be making its round in Kelantan, the land of my ancestors. The last time SUKAD was being played in the main campus, my team was being eliminated in the preliminary stage.

Since that disappointing outing, I hanged up my racquet in despair. It was a poorly assembled squad. Having been ripped off the services of Ah Yong and Zamri that brought us to the quarter final feat a year earlier, I trained my close friends Fahmi and Firdaus with the aim of taking part in the tournament.

It was a horrible venture…we ended up having more laugh than the determination to win. But it was a good display from them…no hard and bitter feeling…because they just wanted to have fun. It was such a pleasure to have them as my friends.

Of course Malik’s sudden invitation provides a mix of adventure and excitement to me. It was squash that brought me to Kelantan for the first time in 2004. It was always my desire to observe the psyche and nature of Kelantan’s people…their state often regarded as the Malay heartland and their people, the real Malay.

My great-great grandfather and his family fled Kelantan's palace many generations ago…in search of a greener pasture. They were a servant to Kelantan’s monarch, until they came into that fateful decision. They crossed the deadly jungle separating the eastern and the western part of peninsula Malaysia before setting foot in a prosperous land of Kedah.

They settled down and started making a living out of a strange environment. A few generations passed…and I was born.

It was poverty that forced my ancestors to flee and explore the new world, but it was squash that did the same to me. If the hunger for food and basic needs were the driving force behind their quest for migration, for me it was the hunger for success and the insatiable thirst for experience. Indeed, the squash odyssey has taken me to a multitude of places…the deserted land of Ujong Pasir, the sprawling city of Bandar Hilir, that haven of serenity in Kulim, and into a deep remote area in Londang.

Along the way, I’ve had the pleasure to meet the kings of squash…namely Kenny and abang Nik. Kenny, dubbed the king of Malacca at that time, bewildered me with his string of beautifully executed shots. Together with Fahmi, they were the bedrock of the Malaccan team in the MSSM. Abang Nik, former national player who once trained with the likes of Azlan Iskandar and Ong Beng Hee, was in the class of his own. A complete player with a fleet of amazing strokes, he led by example and was considered a legend among my peers.

The prince…such as Fahmi of Seri Mahkota. A young boy who didn’t quite grasp my thick accent of Kedah at the said time, showed how a kampong boy could be turned into a class player. He formed a great friendship with Kenny. I could still remember they playfully lit up a firecracker together outside the Ujong Pasir court, in the middle of an important match.

The queen…Sahar. My classmate and former national under 18 champion. She was so well known inside the squash community and competed on the international scene on a regular basis. There was one moment when a Chinese woman rushed towards us during a tournament, asking with bated breath “which one is Sahar?”

They’ve heard about her long before they’ve even knew how she looked like. It’s true that words travel faster than light at times.

The princess…in the name of Vanessa. I’ve touched on her before, so I won’t elaborate much here.

And, last but not least, the show-off pony like Azim.

Hi. I am Rambut Pacak. The greatest, bestest ever squash player in the world. Beat me if you can.

We were kept apart in the final last year because I wanted to play against abang Nik, who was in his last appearance for SUKAD. I am looking forward to meeting him this year, but to my despair, he is scheduled to feature in the MASUM circuit in UTM.

Maybe luck was on his side. Good riddance to him.

A nuisance of legendary proportion, he’s too smug for the beautiful game of squash. Never in my adventure of squash have I met a character that matched him. Squash is never a battlefield for me, it’s a beautiful game of techniques and skills. You win matches by striking a delicate combination of ball control, fitness and movement on the court. If you play squash for the affection of the crowds, the game will lose its charm.

It’s hard to draw an early conclusion from the freshly released schedule. We were grouped together alongside Tekun, Bakti Permai and PETAS. By far, we are the strongest and the most well balanced team on paper. But anything could happen…nothing could be taken for granted.

The crux of the Tekun’s team lies on their two front man, Amar and Shimie. Amar is a dangerous player…and he plays dangerously as well. He’s a fast player, and the fact that he’s a left-handed further complicated the matter. Shimie is unpredictable. A greenhorn player who first picked up the squash racquet less than a year ago, he has shown much progress throughout the year. Nizam, a novice who is still learning the trade, is vastly improving with the passage of time. So we could expect a heated opening match ahead.

Bakti Permai and PETAS were still a big mystery. But I didn’t expect a miracle of Shakespearean proportion from them. Maybe they were just a bunch of beginners trying to gain some experience. But, if Hanif’s joke were to become a reality (Azlan Iskandar is going to play for Bakti!) then we are doomed for sure.

But, fret not…we have two of the most outstanding players on our side. Malik is physically the fittest player around. If his mounting work didn’t distract him, we could expect a good showing from him. He plays with brain, and he seemed all fired up to face his opponents. Farid is the most underrated player ever. There are little variations in his game, but he’s unbelievably an effective player. He gets the work done…the true objective of playing a team game.

With a fairly competent Hanif waiting in the pecking order, we have a quartet of highly exciting players at our disposal. If we remain true to our game plan, a birth in the final for a second successive years isn’t that far from our reach.

Farid and Malik. The lynchpin of Aman’s success last year. Seen here celebrating our success at KFC.

So roll on SUKAD! If I won this damn thing this time around, I’ll retire peacefully from squash for good.