Overseas test for Brunei squash players

Fadhil Yunus

Since the formation of the new executive committee in the Brunei Squash Rackets Association (BSRA) in April last year, the association has been actively sending players to compete in regional and international tournaments.

Apart from efforts in organising tournaments in the country, the association has set up an initiative to enhance the development of local players through overseas competitions, reiterating their commitment of reviving the sport that had long been in hiatus.

This month, the association will be sending the country’s leading and emerging players to two more regional tournaments in the 3rd Thailand Open Championship sanctioned by the Asian Squash Federation (ASF) and the Professional Squash Association (PSA), and the Raintree KL Jumbo Doubles in Selangor.

Organised by the Thailand Squash Racket Association (TSRA), the Thailand meet will feature three players from Brunei Darussalam, namely Dzulazmi bin Haji Mutalib, Lim Kok Sheng and Abang Md Safwan bin Abang Kifrawi.

The trio, who will take part in the men’s open category, has undergone training for almost a year, having made preparations for tournaments in the association’s calendar since January.

With the players ranked in the country’s national rankings, they are under the guidance of coach Pengiran Hasnan bin Pengiran Anak Haji Rozanan.

Brunei’s jumbo doubles pair Abang Md Huzairie bin Abang Haji Ali and Haji Saiful Rizal bin Haji Ali during a training session. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

“We have been preparing them since January for all the tournaments that we have planned,” said Pengiran Hasnan in an interview with the Bulletin.

“It is a good thing that the tournaments are at the end of the year because it is good timing for the players to play in this tournament since they are entering their peak season.”

Each player has already taken part in three or four tournaments at regional level, highlighting opportunities provided by the association in showcasing the country’s talents and abilities outside these shores.

In more than a year since the executive committee was formed, the players have already garnered experience playing in the Singapore circuit league, Miri and Bangkok.

The association has also sent players to the Thailand Open in the last edition of the tournament, where they did not specify any targets.

“We sent some players and only Lim Kok Sheng and Safwan will be playing for the second time in the 3rd Thailand Open. For this year, our target is to be in the third round or quarterfinals of the tournament,” said Pengiran Hasnan.

“The tournament is an open event and at a PSA level. I’m very sure that the other countries will also be sending the best players to participate in the tournament.”

The trio will face stern competition against many world ranked players, especially the top 100 players. Last year, the event was won by a Malaysian ranked 120th in the world.

Underlining the difficulty of the tournament, Pengiran Hasnan said that there were eight professionals playing at that time.

Meanwhile, two of the country’s top names Abang Md Huzairie bin Abang Haji Ali and Haji Saiful Rizal bin Haji Ali will be competing in the Raintree KL Jumbo Doubles in Selangor.

The Raintree tournament has been a part of the BSRA’s programme and the duo has already participated in tournaments in Bangkok and Singapore prior to the upcoming Selangor meet. The pairing of Abang Md Huzairie and Haji Saiful Rizal has been set a target of finishing in the top three or semi-finals in the jumbo event.

“The target for the Raintree players is achieving the top three or the semi-finals. The Southeast Asian (SEA) Games participants who will be playing in Manila will be in Raintree. It is like playing in the SEA Games,” said Pengiran Hasnan.

Abang Md Huzairie and Haji Saiful Rizal were not initially paired together but Pengiran Hasnan saw the potential of these players.

“I chose these two players to be partners because I have to look individually at their game plan and on how both players are playing,” he explained.

“One of them must be an attacking player and the other a defensive player. The court will be a little bit different – it will be bigger and wider.

“In jumbo fitness, they will need more fitness and they have to be very fit because the rallies will be longer. One set can finish up to 20 or 30 minutes.”

“The defensive player who plays at the back has to be very fit because he is the one who is going to keep the rally going.”

Both Abang Md Huzairie and Haji Saiful reached the quarterfinals at the Singapore Island Country Club in Singapore and the third round in the Bangkok meet.

Based on the coach’s assessment of the pair’s participation in the Bangkok meet, unforced errors were found.

The Bangkok meet marked the first time that the pair played together in the jumbo doubles and they returned to Brunei with an emphasis on more training.

The players and coach alike heightened their preparations for the 9th SICC/ Marigold International Jumbo Doubles Squash Tournament in July 2019.

Pengiran Hasnan acknowledged a good result by the players having reached the quarterfinals where they lost to the Singaporean top seed.

The coach advised to play longer rallies instead of killing the shots, to play more defensively and get the ball tight to the wall and make lesser mistakes in making fancy shots. Both the Pattaya-bound and players registered for the Selangor meet have trained with each other in preparation for the tournaments.