Squash – Eagle and Evans (Comedy Sketch)

Eagle and Evans was an episodic Australian TV sketch show first screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2004. The series was set in a fictional variety show “The Blaze da Silva Experience”, the main characters, Eagle and Evans, being the warm-up guys for da Silva himself, the self-titled “most loved man on television”.

In reality, they hang around in the green room trying to put off anyone they think might do a better comedy routine than them. But what they really want is to score a proper guest spot on the show.

In this squash post-match interview sketch, Craig Eagle and Dailan Evans give an honest, if cliche-ridden, analysis of their on-court performances.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, IMDB, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and YouTube.

Hijab Stories – Part 2

For Part 1 of “Hijab Stories” go to the following link.

In the space of a few days in early August, I stumbled across two stories connected by a common theme: female squash players who represent their countries in international competition…and who wear the hijab.

Competition

The first story covered the final of the World Junior Womens Squash Team Championships held in Kuala Lumpur. As has become de rigeur in recent years, the final was contested between Egypt and another country, this time that country being the hosts, Malaysia. Both finalists in each of the other competitions taking place at the Championships, namely the Mens and Womens Singles, were, yes you’ve guessed it, also Egyptian.

World Junior Squash Womens Team Championships 2019 (Final)

But it was Malaysia’s 17-year old first string, Aifa Azman, that caught my attention by virtue of the fact that her kit incorporated a hijab. Although Azman lost her match to Egyptian first string (and just-crowned Junior Womens Singles champion) Hania El Hamammy, her performance in winning the first game pretty much demonstrated that, in squash at least, dress codes have adapted in recognition of the nature of the opportunities presented by international competition.

Gossip

The second story described the experience of 12-year old US squash player Fatima Abdelrahman. En route to play in a tournament in Toronto, Abdelrahman had, according to news reports, cleared security at San Francisco Airport to board an Air Canada flight. Travelling with her older sister, she was reportedly asked by a ‘gate agent’ to remove her hijab, apparently without being given the option of doing so in private.

Irrespective of the circumstances, the social media storm triggered by the incident is, at the time of writing, still going strong. Yet, unlike Aifa Azman’s participation in a squash tournament, the Abdelrahman incident demonstrates how a single human conversation lasting seconds can generate so many secondary communications, between individuals not actually present at the time, unfamiliar with any of the people involved and, almost certainly, unaware of the existence of squash. Whether or not any of those communications will ultimately be helpful to any of the parties involved in the incident, I’ll leave for others to judge. Meanwhile, I’ll keep on looking for stories which celebrate a sport which, in my opinion, can compete with the best.

In public or in private.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia and The National Post.

Why Is Egypt So Good At Squash? (BBC Africa Short Film) – 2018

There are some sports which certain countries are just really good at. We’re talking New Zealand and rugby union, Brazil and football, and Kenya and middle distance running. Well, it might surprise you that an African country dominates the sport of squash. In this short film, BBC Sport Africa’s Isaac Fanin looks at why Egypt is so good at squash.

OK, so I admit that this BBC Africa feature passed me by when it first appeared in 2018. However, when I did unearth it, it did inspired me to look further afield for explanations as to Egypt’s current domination of the game.

Why Is Egypt So Good At Squash? (2018)

Here’s a reason for Egypt’s success given in an interview for Culture Trip by current World number 1, Ali Farag. “We had a lot of champions growing up so there was always someone to look up to and aspire to emulate,” he explained. “Those players were always generous to give us advice or step on the court with us. We’re all concentrated in Cairo or Alexandria so we can play against each other unlike in the United States, for example, if people are in different states and not concentrated in one or two cities.”

Farag’s explanation is echoed by fellow Egyptian and former World number 1, Amr Shabana in an article for The Atlantic. “There’s a quote that says ‘you’re only as good as the people around you.’ Around us were the best players – maybe not the best in the world, but we thought they were. This is the main reason squash thrived,” Shabana said. “Everybody pushed each other.”

In a 2014 article for Serious Squash, Canadian coach Chris Hanebury states, “I know people in Egypt could confirm or deny this and make a better argument on this subject, but I feel that creativity and attacking squash is not frowned upon, and is actually encouraged. They are continually reinventing how the game is played. Even though this may mean a few errors in the short term, these young players are learning to play a style of squash that better suits the glass courts and the lower tin.

But let’s leave the last word to Amr Shabana who, in a 2018 Express Tribune article, offered an explanation suggesting the superior ability of Egyptian squash players to exploit the incredible speed of balls travelling at 175 kilometres per hour or more.

Shabana compared the ability to manoeuvring Cairo’s sometimes chaotic streets behind the wheel of a car. “It’s like our driving,” he explains. “Under pressure, our decision-making process is very sharp.”

Plenty of scope for some innovative coaching techniques there then.

Sources

Thanks to BBC Sport Africa, Culture Trip, The Atlantic, Serious Squash and The Express Tribune.

Broken Strings (2018) – Short Film

What does it take before somebody’s resilience breaks? Sam Halford is tested when his coach pushes him and his classmate, Matt, to their limits. But when does pushing somebody beyond their limits become too much to handle?

Broken Strings (2018)

A Dunley Productions film.

Directed by Alfie Drakeley and Connor Dunham

Written by Alfie Drakeley

Cast: Jake Vermuelen (Sam Wilson) Josh Beardmore (Coach) and Alfie Drakeley (Matt Wilson).

Business Squash (Comedy Sketch)

Well “better late than never” I always say, or at least I occasionally say when I’ve fallen down on whatever job I’ve set myself; in this case spotting squash-themed comedy sketches.

This latest offering comes from Irish comedy trio Foil Arms and Hog who, for reasons unknown (to me, anyway) choose to omit a comma from their stage name, assuming that stage names still exist nowadays.

The group comprises Sean Finnegan, Sean Flanagan and Conor McKenna and performs on TV, radio, the stage and online. Formed in 2008 while all three were students at University College Dublin, the group’s name evolved from the nicknames each of the members had for each other; Foil (Sean Finegan) so-called because was the ‘comedy foil’, Arms (Conor McKenna) because he was ‘All arms and legs’ and Hog (Sean Flanagan) because he ostensibly hogged the limelight. All very well, but I’m still concerned about that comma.

And the “better late than never?” Ah, yes, well the sketch does date from 2013 but, in my defence, I’ve had a lot on recently.

P.S. Do check out the Foil Arms and Hog website for tour dates, merchandise and downloads.

Squash (2012) – Short Film / Cortomejadre

In Spanish. Click on video “Subtitles / Closed Captions” button for English subtitles.

It seems that, in modern times, destiny has reserved the same meeting place for us: the dole queue. A squash-themed story of competition, unemployment and dairy produce.

Parece que, con los tiempos que corren, el destino nos tiene guardado a todos un mismo lugar de encuentro: la cola del paro.

Distributed by the Instituto Del Cine, Spain 2012
  • Written and Directed by Jon Plazaola and Javier Cirujeda
  • Lead Producer: Guillermo Tio
  • Original Idea: Jon Plazaola
  • Associate Producer: Helher Escribano
  • Executive Producers: Guillermo Tio, Jon Plazaola and Javier Cirujeda
  • Director of Photography: Marco Caneda
  • Artistic Director: Carlos Perez De Irube
  • Music: The Dead Rocks “Easy Job”

How To Win A Squash Rally – Part 3

Hot on the heels of “How To Win A Squash Rally” and “How To Win A Squash Rally – Part 2” comes this offering from Mexico’s César Salazar. Well, perhaps “hot on the heels” is a little misleading as the two aforementioned posts appeared on this blog in 2016.

Salazar’s effort came in a first-round match against Number 2 seed Karim Abdel Gawad in the 2017 Hong Kong Open. The Mexican’s strategy can be summarised as follows:

1. Wrongly try to second-guess the direction of your opponent’s next shot and dive forward, full length, to return the ball.
2. Get to your feet.
3. Fall over your opponent’s leg and launch yourself horizontally towards the right-hand wall to return the ball.
4. Get up again.
5. Repeat step 1.
6. Return opponent’s next shot from a kneeling position.
7. Regain your footing.
8. Watch your opponent put the ball into the tin.

Classic.

Salazar went on to lose the match 3-1 to Gawad who eventually reached the semi-finals, going out to fellow Egyptian Ali Farag who, one assumes, upset Gawad’s rhythm by remaining on his feet through the entire 55 minute encounter.

It’s amazing what some players will do to win a rally.

Sources

Thanks to PSA Squash TV for the clip. You can find their YouTube channel here.

Monday Night (2011) – Short Film

A short film about appalling behaviour.

Cast

Larry Day and Bruce Dinsmore as The Players

Credits

A film by Karl Raudsapp-Hearne

Funded by Bravo! FACT

Presented by Pulsing Calf Pictures

Written, Directed and Produced by Karl R. Hearne

****

“Monday Night” isn’t the first squash-themed short film to serve as a cypher for dubious behaviour in business and, I suspect, it won’t be the last. As a case in point, French director Lionel Bailliu’s 2003 film Squash showed two business rivals involved in on-court combat of the “fight to the death” variety.

In contrast, Karl Raudsapp-Hearne’s 2011 film contrasts on-court etiquette (or lack of it in the case of Larry Day’s self-destructive player) with off-court subterfuge, both opponents happy to plot against a new colleague to further their own financial ends.

“I guess that’s the game,” says Day’s character at the death.

For some players, I suspect that’s just what it is.

 

 

The Cannonball Run

Having written recently of the domination of Egyptian and, more specifically, Alexandrian players in the men’s and women’s games, I was, in retrospect, cruising for a bruising.

True, the appearance of Alexandria’s Mohamed El Shorbagy and Cairo’s Tarek Momen in the March final of The Canary Wharf Classic in London followed the pattern I’d written about, El Shorbagy winning in a five-game thriller. The final of the Grasshopper Cup in Zurich later in the month (see below) also featured an Alexandria / Cairo pairing with El Shorbagy taking on, and losing to, a revitalised Ramy Ashour.

Even the El Gouna International tournament in April went to form, Alexandrians Marwan El Shorbagy and Raneem El Welily taking the men’s and women’s titles defeating Cairo’s Ali Farag and Alexandrian Noor El Sherbini respectively.

No change there.

The pattern repeated in May where El Sherbini and El Welily met again, this time in the final of the Allam British Open in Hull. On this occasion, El Sherbini was to reverse the El Gouna result, beating  El Welily in three games.

And so to the men’s final.

If, from an Egyptian point of view, Simon Rosner had proved to be the party-pooper by winning January’s Tournament of Champions in New York, Colombia’s Miguel Ángel Rodríguez was to make a similar impact in Hull (see below). In another five-game epic, the “Colombian Cannonball” maintained his high-energy form over 100 minutes to upset two time winner Mohamed El Shorbagy.

Despite Rodriguez’s heroics, however, Egyptian players still took eleven out of the twelve finalist spots in the four world-ranking tournaments held from March to May.

After all, cannonballs don’t always show up on finals day.

Sources

Thanks to the PSA Squash TV Channel.

 

 

James Willstrop: Treading The Boards

Time for some quick-fire questions for all you squash lovers.

(1) What links Bill Paterson, Richard Dreyfuss and James Willstrop?

No? OK, here’s an easier one.

(2) What links Colin Firth, Tom Hiddlestone and James Willstrop?

Can’t get that one either? Oh, dear. How about:

(3) What links Laurence Olivier, James Norton and James Willstrop?

Well, yes, I suppose that most of you spotted that recently-crowned Commonwealth Men’s Singles Squash Champion James Willstrop is mentioned in all three questions. But, then, that wasn’t the question was it?

So here are the answers:

(1) All have played the role of prominent lawyer Gerardo Escobar in Ariel Dorfman’s play “Death and The Maiden.”

(2) All have played the role of former pilot Freddie Page in Terence Rattigan’s play “The Deep Blue Sea.”

(3) All have played the role of British Army commander Captain Stanhope in R.C. Sherriff’s play “Journey’s End.”

In short, professional squash player James Willstrop is also a dramatic actor.

Death and The Maiden

Those of you wanting to catch James treading the boards will be able to do so next month (June 2018) at the Harrogate Dramatic Society where he appears in a new production of “Death and The Maiden.”

James Willstrop and Clare Evans-Argent in “Death and The Maiden”

Premiered in 1991, the play is a three-hander set in an unnamed South American country in which a new, democratic age is dawning. Housewife Paulina Escobar’s husband, Gerardo (James Willstrop), brings home a charming stranger he has found stranded on the road. Paulina (played by Clare Evans-Argent) becomes convinced that the stranger, Dr.Miranda, was part of the old regime and that he tortured and raped her for weeks while she was blindfolded. She takes Miranda captive to determine the truth despite attempts by both her husband and Miranda to convince her that Miranda is innocent.

Ariel Dorfman’s explosively provocative, award-winning play was written in the wake of the Pinochet regime in Chile and continues to resonate with modern audiences as a stark reminder of the human rights violations we continue to witness in the world today.

The Deep Blue Sea

James Willstrop’s dramatic role in “Death and The Maiden” follows his well-received 2017 performance in ”The Deep Blue Sea” at the Ilkley Playhouse. Described as “an extraordinary exploration of love, desire, delusion and despair,” the play takes place over the course of one day.

James Willstrop and Louise Button in “The Deep Blue Sea”

First performed in 1952, it begins with the discovery of Hester Collyer (Louise Button) in her flat by her neighbours after she has failed in an attempt to commit suicide by gassing herself. In flashback, some time before, Hester left her husband, Sir William Collyer, a respectable High Court judge, for a semi-alcoholic former RAF pilot, Freddie Page (James Willstrop). Hester’s relationship with Page was physical and passionate, but his ardour eventually cooled, leaving her emotionally stranded and desperate.

The part of Freddie was “played with great languid nonchalance by James Willstrop” reported the Ilkley News in 2017.

Journey’s End

James Willstrop in “Journey’s End”

Last, but not least, Willstrop’s role in “The Deep Blue Sea” was preceded, in 2015, by a performance for which he received a best actor award at the Wharfedale Festival of Theatre. His role as Stanhope in the Adel Players production of “Journey’s End” was “particularly demanding as it required him to be on stage for almost all of the play” said one review. First performed in 1928 at the Apollo Theatre in London the role of Stanhope was played by the young Laurence Olivier.

Set in the trenches near Saint-Quentin, Aisne, in 1918 towards the end of the First World War, “Journey’s End” gives a glimpse into the experiences of the officers of a British Army infantry company in World War I. The entire story plays out in the officers’ dugout over four days from 18 March 1918 to 21 March 1918, during the run-up to the real-life events of Operation Michael, a major German military offensive during the First World War that began the Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918.

The Acting Game

In addition to his acting career, Willstrop has carved a niche for himself as a theatre critic with reviews of plays in London’s West End as well as in the North of England. In one, he compares the roles of actor and sportsman:

“The acting game does differ from sport in that it is all subjectivity. In sport, you are either good or not. Rankings or titles tend not to lie.”

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, PSA World Tour, Harrogate Advertiser, Keighley News, The Adel Players and The Huffington Post.