FALL OF THE KHANS' SQUASH EMPIRE

The lost position can only be regained by working hard

By SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Dec 19 - 25, 2005

A little more than a year ago squash legend, Jahangir Khan had said, "I would advice Pakistanis to work and train even harder than the rest to achieve higher goals. That is the only way they can win some tournaments and bring glory to Pakistan". His advice was neither well taken by the players nor by those responsible for squash, which is evident from recently held competition, where Pakistan ranked seventh. Staying at top is not easy particularly at a sport called squash because World Squash Federation has over 150 member countries and 15 million registered squash players worldwide. However, it is also a fact for years Khans of Pakistan have remained the world champions, only because they worked hard.

The only individual sport in which Pakistan has made her presence felt at the international level is squash. Ever since its debut in 1950, Pakistan has remained among the top squash playing countries of the world. The man who put Pakistan on the squash map of the world was Hashim Khan. He baffled the world with his artistry, his wizardry and amazing speed and found a dynasty which dominated the squash world for nearly three decades. The names of the great maestros are his brother Azam Khan, cousin Roshan Khan, son Sharif Khan, nephew Mohibullah, Qamar Zaman, Jahangir Khan (son of Roshan Khan) and Jansher Khan. Except for a brief period, when Geoff Hunt of Australia reigned supreme, the supremacy had remained with Pakistan.

1948 saw the entry of a Khan, M. A. Bari, from Peshawar then living in Bombay, at the squash horizon, who on his first entry reached to finals of the British Open. After the tournament, Habib Rehmatullah, Pakistan's High Commissioner to UK asked Bari if he could play for Pakistan. Bari declined but suggested to approach his cousin Hashim Khan, whom he had never been able to defeat in any official or unofficial tournament. This way Pakistan discovered Hashim, already 35 years of age, living in oblivion in Peshawar. Hashim expressed confidence in his ability to defeat Bari and it was agreed that he should be given a chance to prove himself.

Hashim was put on a Pakistan Air Force freighter in January, 1950, to face the established world champions and the harshness of the cold English weather. He reached the finals of his first British Open, vindicating his self-belief, where he met Karim, who had won yet another five set semi-final with Bari. The final was played in a tense atmosphere and Karim led 5-3 in the first game. The next point saw a breathtaking rally, which ended with Karim, attempting a desperately difficult winner from a tight position, hitting the tin. A change in service hand at 3-5 found Karim so exhausted and dispirited that he conceded the next 24 points to Hashim, who won the world title 9-5, 9-0, 9-0 in his first ever appearance in an international tournament.

Two new stars from Pakistan made their appearance on the world squash stage - Jehangir Khan and Suhail Qaiser. Suhail Qaiser's career was brilliant but short, burning out like a meteor. Jehangir khan, on the other hand, became the most successful and long lasting Pakistani squash stars. The years 1982-1986 are known as the Jehangir Khan era. Jehangir Khan's records and achievements in squash are unsurpassed and are likely to stay that way for many years to come. He first reached the final of the British Open in 1981 when he was only 17 years old. He won his first British Open in 1982 from Hunt, the world number one since 1970. Jehangir won ten consecutive British Opens and remained undefeated for a continuous period of sixty-six months. Jehangir's achievements brought him the title of the 'King of Squash' and pundits of the game dubbed him the greatest squash champion of the contemporary period.

The world wondered who would succeed Jehangir but entry of Jansher Khan in 1987 provided the clue. His appearance at the age of 17 caused tremors in the squash world when, in his first year in the international squash, he dethroned top class players including Jehangir. However, Jehangir recovered from the shock and thereafter the two kept winning the top world titles alternately for Pakistan. The physical and mental pressures on Jehangir forced him to miss most of the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Jehangir's absence on account of his health problems provided greater impetus for Jansher who, since then single-handedly held Pakistan's flag aloft. Jansher's achievements are already legendary. His effortless court movements and positional play were unmatched and he attained near perfection in ball control, court technique and tactical ability. He may not posseed the speed of Mohibullah Sr., or the power stroke of Hiddy Jehan and Sajjad, or the soft lobs and floating cross drops of Gogi, but he achieved the perfect balance between all these qualities to become a player worth watching. With Jansher moving out from the global squash Pakistan has not been able to find a replacement to carry the torch. While players from other countries may be working hard, what are we waiting for?

Jhangir Khan
Jansher Khan
The Great Khans of Squash (Mohibullah, Azam, Roshan and Hashim)
Hashim Khan