By Adil Ahmad of St. Patrick’s College, Karachi.
From L to R: Roshan Khan, Jonah Barrington, Azam Khan, Jahangir Khan, Geoff Hunt, Hashim Khan and Qamar Zaman.
Pakistan Squash Federation Handbook 1993-1994
PAKISTAN’S MAGNIFICIENT SEVEN
By Adil Ahmad
I feel greatly honoured at having been asked to contribute to the first ever Pakistan squash handbook. Squash has a special place in every Pakistani’s heart. It is not just a mere game for us here in the land of the Indus and Karakorum. Squash has provided for us a vital straw to hold onto at a critical time of our development as a society and nation.
Threatened by the prospect of being consigned to the ranks of mediocrity associated with third world countries Pakistan’s squash players have rallied to the rescue and with their superb performances have lifted the hearts of Pakistanis the world over. Hashim, Azam, Roshan, Mohibullah senior, Qamar Zaman, Jahangir and Jansher have blazoned their country’s name around the globe for almost three and a half decades. Squash has enabled Pakistan to demonstrate to the world its combative, competitive spirit, and the indignities inflicted upon us by the ‘resource gap’ have been compensated in great measure by the euphoria of victory over the ‘resource rich’.
These magnificent seven have prevailed over intimidating odds to acquire membership of Pakistan’s ultra exclusive club – the Tamers of the British Open and the Champions of the World of Squash. Pakistan squash has provided for the nation a window to the world, a window through which Pakistani youths have had a breathtaking view of success and glory which has motivated them to shed their doubts and fears and believe in themselves and their ability to excel at the highest levels. A profound change has developed in the Pakistani sports psyche because of its experience in the game of squash. From crow eaters to world beaters has been one exhilarating journey.
The journey began, as same would have it, in preparation colonial prisons. The close confines of a prison cell and monotony of everyday life inspired some prisoner, or prison official, to introduce a ball into their scheme of things. They had a ball alright! Every day of the week! It became immensely popular, and a new game was born. One aspect which became immediately clear to the establishment was the activity’s phenomenal utility as a sapper of tension and surplus energy, two areas of dread for every prison official. Also, since it was played within the confines of a small cell, the anticipation, reflexes, and general muscular agility which it developed in the inmates was quite starling. The keenly intelligent English mind latched upon these attributes and built upon them a game which has produced some of the world’s finest athletes.
The tradition responsible for this heritage in Pakistan reaches back to 1901, when the Peshawar Club built two roofless, cement floored squash courts. Although, meant for the British Officers’ Crops, these courts provided for the Khans of Nawa Killi an opportunity to establish a different kind of pathan domination. The racket achieved for them that which the rifle never could have. It was the spirit of ‘badla’ or vengeance, or ‘nanwati’, the giving of protection, and melmastia., or hospitality combined with the pahtans’ natural tenacity and ferocity which produced a phenomenon from which the world has yet to recover.
Hashim Khan provided the curtain raiser to Pakistan’s advent to the world stage with his staggering seven British Open wins. But in 1916, when Abdullah Khan, the chief steward at the Peshawar Club, a competent player of both squash and tennis, fathered Hashim.
Hashim, started playing squash when he was eight years old, taking advantage of his father’s presence at the Peshawar Club. Because he was so small, he had to hold the racket halfway up the shaft – a grip which he never discarded, and which became his trademark. He was much faster tan other boys of his age and quickly developed a reputation for retrieving from what appeared impossible positions. He was appointed a professional at the RAF base in Peshawar in 1942.
In 1944 Hashim won the All-India Professional Championship beating Abdul Bari in the final. He continued to dominate Pakistan squash and in 1950, Hashim was sent to London to try and wrest the British Open title from Egypt’s Mahmoud Karim who was regarded as the world’s best player at the time. Not only did Hashim win the British Open, but he demolished Karim in the final for the loss of just five points to notch-up the first of an incredible run of successes. Although it has never been possible to ascertain his exact date of birth, Hashim was somewhere between thirty-five and thirty-seven when he recorded his first victory – an age when most players have ceased to be involved in serious competition.
For the next five years Hashim was virtually unbeatable, and he held the British Open title throughout this period, twice beating his brother Azam in the final. In 1956 Hashim surrendered his British Open mantle to another clansman, Roshan, but bounced back in 1957 to win the title, again beating Azam in the final. The following year he lost in the semifinals to Azam, and this proved to be his last British Open Championship.
Hashim moved to America where his name and legendary achievements provided him with rich pickings, and he has lived there ever since. He adapted easily to the American game and recorded a string of US Open wins. Hashim has made the trek back to Britain each year since 1977 to win the British Open Vintage Championship. In April 1981 he watched Geoff Hunt beat his record of seven British Open victories but, by then he himself had won four Vintage titles, a record, and even more remarkable when one considers that he was about sixty-eight years of age at the time.
Hashim’s great run in the fifties may finally have been eclipsed by Hunt and Jahangir, but no one will ever again be called the father of squash or the founder of the modern game. Hashim Khan has earned the right to regard those titles as his own personal property.
Although fame and fortune seemed to have slipped easily into Hashim’s lap, it was an uphill battle for the second of Pakistan’s magnificent seven, Roshan Khan.
His victory against Hashim in the final of the British Open in March 1956 was the culmination of a long struggle against poverty and intense clan rivalry. When Hashim, a relative by marriage from the same village, won the first of his British Open titles in 1951, Roshan was working as assistant squash professional to his father at the Rawalpindi Club.
That year Roshan won the Pakistan Professional Championship and, somewhat impulsively, gave up his job at Rawalpindi to join his elder brother Nasrullah in Karachi. For the next two years, despite being the national champion, Roshan’s efforts at playing in the British Open were frustrated. Lack of sponsorship forced him to remain in Karachi while Hashim and his brother Azam were funded to travel to England for the world’s premier event. As he explained to Rex Bellamy in the Story of Squash, this period in his life was immensely depressing. “I was lying on the street with no house, no job, no racket, no shoes. All day I helped Naz with tennis to get some money. they would not allow me to play squash. At nigh I used to go o to an open ground to run. I could not afford to buy a racket to practice and, even if I could, I could not play. There was much politics against me.”
Roshan seriously considered giving up the game, but just as this seemed inevitable, the Pakistan Navy came to his rescue. He was offered a job and promised a trip to England if he won the Pakistan Professional Championship for the third time. Roshan won the title and was sent to Britain. What transpired next was at once cruel and comical. He arrived in London with the minimum of clothing, no squash gear and just five pounds sterling in his pocket, most of which went on a taxi to the Pakistan Embassy. Generously, an official of the British SRA bought a playing kit for Roshan and, when Cousin Abdul Bari invited him to play at the Junior Carlton Club, life was looking considerably brighter. He won his first tournament and a hundred and five guineas by beating Azam and Mahmoud Karim.
Despite this victory and a subsequent upturn in his fortunes, the brothers Hashim and Azam frustrated his attempts to win the British Open for three years. First, he lost in the semi-final to Azam, then to Hashim in the next year’s semi-final, and then again to Hashim in the final of the year after that. Finally, in 1957, he defeated another member of the clan, Mohibullah senior, in the semi-final before going on to beat Hashim 6-9, 9-5, 9-2, 9-1 to win the coveted British O-pen trophy for himself.
Tragedy struck immediately after Roshan’s triumph as first his right and then left knee began to cause him pain, and he was never again able to reproduce his very best form. He did not compete in the next two British Opens, took just one point from Azam in the final in 196, and lost in the semi-finals of the next three competitions to Azam, Mohibullah senior and Abu Talib. Roshan’s last overseas tournament win was win 1961 when he lifted the Canadian Open title.
Roshan, despite being offered many lucrative assignments overseas, remained in Pakistan where he coached two of his sons in his beloved squash. Torsam, the eldest, reached the top ten in the world before he died tragically of a heart attack during a tournament in Australia in late 1979. Roshan’s third son, Jahangir, went on to establish the sort of world domination which sealed the fate of record breakers for a long time to come. Torsam once described his father’s game in the following words. “Classy, and characterised by fantastic ball control, his strokes, particularly his backhand volley drop and the delayed short shots on the backhand were his unforgettable weapons. His game might have looked straightforward, but he always moved his opponents around the court. He always had you chasing the ball.”
The third of the magnificent seven in line for the British Open mantle was Azam Khan.
The younger brother of Hashim, Azam lived in the shadow of his illustrious brother for six years before emerging to win four consecutive British Open titles between 1958 and 1961. He was rescued from a relatively unimportant tennis coaching job and taught squash by his elder brother before travelling to England in December 1952. At first, he showed little indication of the talent that would make him such an accomplished player in later years. “I was hopeless to begin with,” he says, “but Hashim kept pushing me, and finally I could stay on court longer and longer without getting exhausted, and my strokes improved also.”
Early in 1953 he played his first genuine competitive match against England’s Roy Wilson and lost in five games. Less than three months later he reached the semi-finals of the British Open where he was beaten in five games by Hashim who went on to defeat Wilson in the final. For the next five years Hashim stopped his younger brother’s progress in the British Open, beating him twice more in the semi-finals and three times in the finals. Azam finally got his reward in 1958when he beat his nephew Mohibullah senior to win the title. He retained it in 1959 by beating Roshan Khan in the final and notched up two further final victories against Mohibullah senior in 1960 and 1961.
Azam’s career was tragically cut short in 1962 when an irreparably damaged Achilles-tendon forced him to abandon tournament play. It is still a matter for heated debate as to how may British Open titles Azam could have won had it not been for Pakistani family politics. Many people believed that Azam capable of beating Hashim towards the end of the great man’s run of victories, but either chose, or was encouraged, not to. On the other hand, there are those who would suggest that the young Mohibullah senior had been capable of winning the title in 1960 and 1961 – he lost to Azam in five game on both occasions. Still more experts deny both these arguments but feel that had it not been for the tendon injury, Azam might well have gone on the beat Hashim’s record of seven successive victories. the whole truth is unlikely to ever be revolved, but there is no doubt that Azam fully deserves to be ranked amongst the absolute best to have played the game.
Mohibullah Khan Senior
The last member of the magnificent quarter who held sway in the late fifties and early sixties was Mohibullah Khan senior. He went simply by the name Mohibullah, until the emergence of the latter day Mohibullah, the elder brother of Jansher. Mohibullah senior started playing squash at the tender age of ten, under the supervision of his father Safirullah who was a professional at Karachi’s Sindh Club. When he won the Pakistan Junior title in 1956, without dropping a game, Hashim took charge of his training. In 1958 he won the Pakistan Open, admittedly in the absence of Hashim, Roshan and Azam and in the same season reached the final of the British Open where he lost to Azam. In the previous two years he had reached the last four of the British Open where he lost to Hashim and Roshan in straight game. In 1959 he was defeated in the quarter-final by Mike Oddy, who again beat him, in the semi-finals this time, the year after his only title win.
Having finished runner-up on three occasions to his uncle Azam, Mohibullah senior finally won the British Open Championship in 1962 to complete a remarkable run of thirteen successive victories by the amazing Khan clan. After his 1962 triumph Mohibullah senior emigrated to the USA where he became a professional at the Harvard Club in Boston on the recommendation of John F. Kennedy. He was not seen on the international squash circuit after 1963 but transferred his allegiance very successfully to the hardball game. reaching three US Open finals in succession, losing to Hashim in 1963, and defeating Hashim in the following two years.
Pakistan squash took a back seat on the international stage for twelve years after Mohibullah senior’s British Open win in 1962. England and Australia ruled the roost during this period, with the legendary John Barrington and Geoffrey Hun holding at bay the steady stream of Pakistani talent who nevertheless launched their annual assault on the British Open title. Aftab Jawaid, Mohammad Yasin, Mohibullah junior, Hiddy Jehan, Gogi Allaudin, Torsam Khan, Sajjad Munir and Rehamt Khan all played in the top sixteen of the World, giving first Barrington, and then Hunt a solid run for their money. It was Qamar Zaman, the fifth of Pakistan’s squash stalwarts, who was destined to recapture the British Open title for Pakistan, which he did in his usual, breath-taking style in 1975.
Qamar Zaman has often been dubbed the magician of the court, the undisciplined artist, the player who breathed humour and creativity into squash. All those descriptions are accurate and well deserved and squash can be thankful that in an era which produced sportsmen whose forte was clinical precision, there were exceptions such as Zaman. Qamar Zaman’s armoury was diverse. Opponents were astonished by the drop shot played from the back of the court with stunning accuracy. audiences were won over by the raising of an eyebrow, the soulful shrug of the shoulders, or the casual dry remark. True entertainers were and are still rare in squash for the sport is too punishing, too exhausting for players to have the time, leave alone the inclination, to view the proceedings with anything more than a desperate eye on the score and a mental check on stamina levels. Zaman, the showman, had used the squash court as his own special stage. His sense of humour is as devastating as his court craft, and his impeccable timing enabled him to deliver his one-liners in such a way as to make an audience dissolve into laughter.
Qamar Zaman’s unpredictability made him a nightmare opponent for all but his close Pakistani colleagues, who could read his game better than most, through the familiarity of practice sessions and many years of match-play. Geoff Hunt only managed to beat Qamar Zaman by his phenomenal retrieving ability and extreme physical prowess. Gawain Briars had fine racket ability and provided for remarkably interesting, sometimes hilarious encounters with Qamar Zaman, trading shot for shot, wit for wit. Zaman would enjoy such matches, even running the risk of losing if he could play in his own unfettered style, going for shots with a high percentage chance of error and succeeding more often than not.
Qamar Zaman entered the international scene in 1972, having initially preferred tennis. His father, Mohammad Ayub, was a tennis and squash coach. The Zaman family came from Peshawar, but Qamar was born in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. It was in Peshawar, however, that the began his squash preparation, joining his contemporary and future rival, Mohibullah junior, under the watchful eye of Mohammad Yasin. The emphasis was always upon court training, practicing shots and routines, a philosophy incorporated by Zaman’s father. Mohibullah junior was the perfect sparring partner for Zaman, possessing many of the qualities of skill, speed, and stamina that Zaman was to meet later against Hunt. He came to Britain in 1972 to contest the British Amateur Championship, and reached the semi-finals, failing only by one point to beat the Australian Billy Reedman. A month later he reached the last sixteen of the British Open, losing in five games to his uncle, Aftab Jawaid. In both these appearances it was clear that Zaman was destined for greater things.
The experience gained in Britain made Zaman a better player, improving his method and stamina. When he returned to Britain the following year he progressed to the final of British Amateur, losing to Mohibullah junior. In the British Open of the same year Zaman made the semi-finals, going down to Mohammad Yasin. Mohibullah junior again beat him in the 1974 British Amateur, although this disappointment for Zaman was soon to be allayed by a famous victory in the 1975 British Open.
It was not an easy draw for Zaman. He had to beat Britain’s Phil Ayton in the third round, holder Geoff Hunt in the quarterfinals, Hiddy Jehan in the semis, and the great touch player, Gogi Allauddin, in the final. Predictably, the match which drew the most attention was the quarter-final with Hunt, the reigning champion. It was one of the few occasions that Hunt allowed Zaman to gain control. Zaman matched Hunt rally for rally, stamina level stamina lever for stamina level. In the fifth game, with the score at 7-5 and Hunt in the lead, the battle seemed to be almost over for Zaman. What followed was utterly amazing. In spectacular fashion Zaman responded with on onslaught of devastating winners, a tremendous risk to take at such a stage, but underlining the Zaman approach of always going for his strokes.
For a few heady weeks Zaman was on top of the world. He beat Hunt again, and if forced the Australian to re-think his game. Many people made snap decisions that Zaman was destined for a long reign as British Open champion. His game at times seemed unplayable, and to the orthodox western eye it seemed inconceivable that such stroke play could be subdued. What happened is well known. Hunt did come back, and Qamar Zaman was destined to stand for the most part in his shadow. To him, gifted artist that he was, two hours of slugging up and down sidewalls was not squash. His instinct to play shots often gained him initiatives, even commanding leads. But Qamar Zaman could not combine this with the killer instinct. Had his game been more clinical, had laziness, born of intelligence, not prevented him from achieving greater heights of physical fitness, Qamar Zaman would no doubt have added further British Open titles to his list of triumphs. After a while Hunt’s dominance seemed to get him down, although, to be fair, the Australian did learn from Zaman and introduced a greater variety of strokes to his repertoire.
Qamar Zaman won the World Masters in 1979 and the International Squash Players’ Championship in 1977 and 1979. He has four times been runner-up in the British Open and three times in the World Open. In the 1983 ISRF World Individual Championship he was again runner-up. With the emergence of Jahangir Khan, Qamar Zaman was once more relegated to a supporting role, losing the 1984 British final, to the young conqueror. It is rumoured that Zaman deliberately set his sights on the number two slot, which he successfully held for over a decade.
In 1980 Qamar Zaman appeared in the world rankings as number one. He had made his point. Being runner-up in the great matches was no bar to being number one. QZ, as his friends fondly call him, has made the transition from champion player to sport administrator remarkably well. As deputy station manager for Pakistan International Airlines in Peshawar, Qamar Zaman has continued his love affair with the sponsor of his playing days, displaying his uncanny ability to adopt to brain, rather than brawn, intensive situations! His post playing assignment has enabled him to contribute to the development of fresh talent in his home province, and as the Sarhad Squash Association’s honorary secretary, Zaman is fully involved in the coaching and training of future champions for Pakistan.
Then came Jahangir Khan, perhaps the most magnificent of the magnificent seven. Jahangir Khan, the youngest son of Roshan, and the younger brother of Torsam, was born in Karachi on December 10, 1963. He was a sickly child, the youngest, smallest, and weakest in the family, with a double hernia. Were it not for father Roshan’s employment in Pakistan Navy and consequent access to the Naval Hospital, It is unlikely that Jahangir’s double hernia would have been cured. But it was cured, and Jahangir set about taking the world by storm.
Jahangir’s introduction to the international set was dramatic. He was the proverbial dark horse which flashed past the finish line ahead of the pack, leaving all and sundry, gasping with amazement. That Jahangir should achieve so much in such a short time and at such a tender age was stunning. When he travelled to the World Amateur Championships in September 1979, he was not yet sixteen and was virtually unknown outside Pakistan. During the trials for the national tea, Jahangir did not make the grade, and it was the perceptiveness of Air Marshal Nur Khan which enabled the young lad to participate in the individual event, where he was required to proceed through the qualifying rounds. Within a few days he had astounded everyone by beating four seeded players to become the youngest ever World Amateur champion.
That win prompted Jonah Barrington to make a technical assessment. “He really is a revelation. He has a very athletic heart which can only improve and has mot un-Pakistani feeling for running and other general training. His length and width hitting are of a remarkably high order already, and he has an obvious talent for the short game which within five years will provide his unfortunate opponents with a great deal of misery. I have no doubt that by the time he is twenty-one he will have won the World Open.” A bold prediction and accurate in every respect expect for the length of time that Jahangir needed to win the Open.
Jahangir’s first period of glory was marred by a tragedy when, just a few weeks later, his elder brother Torsam, an exceptionally talented player who was ranked in the world’s top ten, collapsed and died during a game in Adelaide. At that time Jahangir’s father looked in doubt, but his cousin Rehmat stepped in, virtually sacrificing his own playing career, and took the new champion under his wing at his home in London. Jahangir’s grief was compounded by frustration when he was robbed of the opportunity to add the British Amateur title to his world crown when an injury sustained in training forced him to withdraw from the championship. He made his professional debut in the ISPA Championship in February 1980, and immediately served notice that his victory in Australia was no fluke by leading world number four Hiddy Jehan two game to one before going down in five. That match prompted Jehan to add hi name to the growing list of Jahangir’s admires by announcing that the youngster would be a champion within two years. That assessment still seemed somewhat extravagant when Jahangir finished the season ranke4d equal twenty-sixth alongside Australian Frank Donnelly. However his improvement in the next twelve months was the most dramatic in the history of the game and confounded even his most optimistic supporters.
Jahangir Khan beat Maqsood Ahmed to reach the last eight of the 1980 World Open before losing 2-3 to Qamar Zaman. The same year he won the New Zealand Open beating Bruce Brownlee in the final. The 1980 Pakistan Open was memorable indeed, as the capacity home crowd gave Jahangir a standing ovation after a highly competitive five setter with Qamar Zaman. Jahangir’s first win over Geoff Hunt came in the Canadian Club tournament in Germany the same year. In England he added to his list of victims by beating Gamal Awad in the Prodorite Invitation final, Ross Norman in the British Under Twenty-Three Open, and again Zaman in the Durham and Cleveland Opens. Hunt avenged his earlier defeat in Germany by beating Jahangir 3-0in the 1981 ISPA final, and so the scene was set for an enthralling climax to the
What transpired was more than anyone could have hoped for as Hunt and Jahangir fought out two of the most dramatic, competitive, and brutal battles ever waged on a squash court. The ultra fit Australian was reduced to immobility as Jahangir emerged victorious from the 1981 Chichester Festival final which lasted two hours and eleven minutes. Many pundits felt that Jahangir would end Hunt’s run of British Open victories by repeating the win in Bromley two weeks later. It looked as if they would be proved correct as Jahangir recovered from 0-2 to take the third game and lead 6-2 in the fourth, Hunt was thoroughly exhausted but somehow, he discovered a fresh reservoir of strength to recover and win 3-1 after two hours and fourteen minutes. Although his season had finished on a relatively disappointing note, Jahangir was now ranked number two in the world, and twenty-seven places above Donnelly with whom he had been bracketed just a year before. All the earlier predictions about his future were made to look like understatements.
Jahangir’s achieved his number one ranking by beating Hunt in the World Open final in December 1981, and he was still eleven days short of his eighteenth birthday! He took the coveted British Open title in April 1982 without dropping a game, even though five of his six opponents were ranked in the worlds top twenty. He retained the world title later in the year when he beat Dean Williams of Australia in the final. Both these victories were achieved without having to do battle with Geoff Hunt, who had been forced into premature retirement through injury. Anyone who witnessed either of their 1980-81 season will forever regret that these two great athletes were not to share the same court more often.
During the 1983 Chichester Festival the Egyptian, Gamal Awad, attempted to run Jahangir into submission. The result was a final lasting two hours and forty-six minutes, the longest match on record, and another win for Jahangir by 3-1. It proved beyond doubt that his physical fitness could hold up to such test. Awad, psychologically dispirited after losing, could not raise the same enthusiasm two weeks later in the final of the British Open, and submitted in straight games for the loss of eight points.
The 1983 ISRF World Individual title fell to Jahangir and two month later he collected his third World Open crown in Munich, winning the championship without dropping a single game in all his matches. Jahangir continued virtually unchallenged on the world squash circuit collecting every title and going unbeaten for five phenomenal years.
However, in November 1986, he lost to Ross Norman in the final of the UAP World Open in France at the Toulouse Plas des Sprot, 5-9, 7-9, 9-7, 1-9. There was talk of an injury sustained in the Malaysian Open a few weeks before. But the myth had been broken. Jahangir was beatable after all.
The new breed of Pakistan players comprised Umar Hayat and Sohail Qaiser, Mir Zaman Gul and Zarak Khan. They made the first benchmarks and played in the world’s top sixteen, but never made any serious assaults on the number one position. Jahangir’s game was head and shoulders above the rest of the field. But there was a serious conspiracy afoot downunder, and the Aussie brigade were in training under the able leadership of legendary Geoff Hunt. The equally legendary Jonah Barrington was marshalling his English charges and finalising the strategy to retake the top slots in a blaze of glory.
Jahangir acknowledged that the competition had stiffened visibly. The marauder, the demolisher of all and sundry, began to pace himself. He reduced his commitments on the international circuit and tailored his training to achieve optimum results in the British Open.
In his ten-year reign as British Open champion, the most consistent challenge to his throne came from the Australians. n 1985 Chirs Dittmar was dismissed for the loss of ten points, 9-3, 9-2, 9-5. In 1988, ’89 and ’90 Rodney Martin was a consistent finalist with hi most creditable performance in 1989 when he took Jahangir the full distance, losing in five games 2-9, 9-3, 5-9, 9-0, 2-9. In the other six British Open finals Jahangir Khan came up against his own countrymen thrice. Hiddy Jehan in 1982 (2-9, 9-10, 3-9), Qamar Zaman in 1984 (0-9, 3-9, 5-9), and the current champion Jansher Khan in 1992 (9-2, 4-9, 4-9, 0-9). In 1983 the Egyptian Gamal Awad reached the final to bow out to Jahangir 2-9, 5-9, 1-9. In 1986 the Newzealander Ross Norman made the grade, adding to the list of distinguished runners-up 6-9, 4-9, 6-9.
There are insufficient superlatives to describe this young man’s accomplishments. The perseverance and sustainability of one man demonstrating the seemingly superhuman and the miraculous. Jahangir made most competition look very mediocre most of the time. Such has been his dominance of sport that when the ‘greatest ever’ argument is aired in future the discussion may be short and amicable and may well revolve around just one name – Jahangir Khan.
The youngest, and currently the most awesome of the magnificent seven is Jansher Khan. With two British Open crowns under his belt, Jansher, whose name means “lionhearted”, is already on the middle rungs of the magnificent seven hierarchy. Lean and lanky, totally relaxed, and easy going in style, his performance on court is, paradoxically, completely electrifying. At twenty-three years of age Jansher Khan is the very picture of confidence as he maintains the lead ahead of the pack, baton firmly in hand after a successful baton change with Jahangir.
The extent and totality of Jahangir’s shadow had relegated to a supporting role a performance which was phenomenal. Jansher Khan first made headlines in 1987 when he won the World Open and made the final of the British Open where he put up a spirited resistance to Jahangir not reflected in the shoreline of 6-9, 0-9, 5-9. Jansher won the World Open again in 1989, ’90, and ’92. As a member of the Pakistan squad, Jansher represented his country in the World Team championships in Cairo in 1986, in Birmingham in 1987, in Singapore in 1989, and in Helsinki in 1991. Jansher made his international debut in 1986 when he won the World junior Championship, beating Rodney Eyles in the final. In 1988 Jansher was declared world number one for the first time. He lost that slot back to Jahangir for a while, regaining it once more in May 1992.
Jansher’s first assault on the British Open was in 1987 when he was beaten by Jahangir in the final 6-9, 0-9, 5-9. For the next three years he was hampered in his aspirations by Rodney Martin. In 1991 Jansher again made the final, losing once more to Jahangir 9-2, 4-9, 4-9, 0-9.
But by now it was evident that Jansher was here to stay and was far from just a flash in the pan. 1992 saw Jansher acquire full fledged, life membership of the ultra exclusive Tamers of the British Open Club. Chris Robertson was there to make him look good as Jansher made off with the Hi-tech trophy 9-7, 10-9, 9-5. The new champion, though not quite as unchallenged as his predecessor, was nevertheless wearing his mantle nicely.
On Monday, April 19, 1993 Jansher returned to the Wembley Conference Center to prove to all and sundry that 1992 had been no fluke. Jansher made his point in great style as he made short work of Julien Bonetat, Paul Lord, Ross Norman and Zarak Khan to reach the final of the British Open, setting up another encounter with his old rival, Chris Dittmar.
Jansher’s euphoria at reaching the final was tempered by anxiety over his mother’s illness which had earlier thrown in doubt his participation in the first place. There were a few minutes in the third game, and again early in the fourth when it appeared that lack of training might be troubling him. After winning the first two games 9-6, 9-5, Jansher dropped the third 6-9. Chris Dittmar later said “When I won the third game and the first two rallies of the fourth, I felt I had him. He seemed to slow down, and I scored more often in the front of the court.” But Jansher came back with a vengeance in the fourth game and showed his unassailable class by winning it 9-3. “It was awful,” said Dittmar, “I just capitulated. There was no excuse.”
With his second British Open title Jansher had managed a successful emergence from Jahangir’s shadow. His transition to fame and fortune has been traumatic at times, and his recent demotion to world number two has displayed the relentlessness of the field in trying wrest the initiative from Pakistan any way it can. The newly crowned number one, Chris Dittmar, has publicly proclaimed himself to be the pretender to the throne, the inadvertent beneficiary of a technical snafu. Jansher is the real king, and he is eager to reclaim his number one position as he prepared for the new season.
Pakistan squash has come a long way since the day when the hat did the rounds at the Pakistan Air Force officers’ mess. That hat and the personal belief of a few gallant gentlemen officers made possible the most dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the pathans from Nawa Killi. In moments of sadness and despair the achievements of the magnificent seven will always serve to inspire and to remind us of what can be achieved in the face of seemingly hopeless odds.