Where have all the Khans gone!

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Gone are the days when the Pakistanis ruled roost in a game played within enclosed walls, in which the aim is to keep hitting a small spherical thing into a wall and making the opponent miss it to win a point. However ridiculous it may sound, a person who has ever watched squash and especially so being played as deftly as the great Jahangir and Jansher, would not argue that it could be as serene as artistry in motion. Such was the fluency and effortlessness in the manner they played the game, introduced to our country by the British like so many other things; it felt as if it was the easiest of the games in the world to learn, till a novice steps into a squash court!

Jahangir Khan was the reason I started watching Squash and it were the times when he became a living legend, having been undefeated for 5 years from 1981-86 winning in excess of 500 matches consecutively without ever losing till that famous loss to Ross Norman, his runner up for so many years! No person ever before or after had emulated him in any sports on a professional level, what to talk about Squash which is played at such a high intensity, involving stamina, precision,deftness technique, power and agility alike. Coming from a Squash playing family, the son of the famous Roshan Khan, he got his inspiration from his elder brother Torsam, who unfortunately died young in a Squash court. Jahangir was a weak child, no one could predict at that age, he would become a world beater one day, winning 10 British Open Titles, the most prestigious of the tournaments, which unfortunately many in UK don’t even know about taking place at all. His hegemony in Squash started in 1981 when he beat the famous Geoff Hunt in the World Open. That Squash playing legend had dominated the scene in the 70s after the Pakistani domination in 50s and 60s led by Hashim Khan and the likes of Roshan Khan, Azam Khan, Mohibullah Khan and Qamar Zaman. Jahangir went on to win 5 more World Open titles. The 80s and 90s belonged to Pakistan, first it was Jahangir and then another lean but superbly athletic guy from the same Squash legend producing belt appeared whose rivalry with Jahangir became one of the most talked about and pleasing to watch. His name was Jansher Khan who went on to win 6 British Open and a record 8 World Open Titles. Every final or semi with Jansher and Jahangir playing each other was a box office hit. I can recall a few especially the Pakistan Open Finals which went all the distance and nothing could separate them, just the minutest of the margins and at times the one who could hold the nerves for longer. The Khans had stamped their names on this tournament for 18 odd years and so many others for a good part of two decades.They played 37 professional matches, with Jansher just edging out 19-18 head to head, but appearing on the scene when Jahangir was already at his peak for a few years and on his decline in the latter years. Jansher went on to be number one player in the world for a good part of a decade. It wasn’t to last forever unfortunately as every great thing comes to a natural decline.

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The turn of the century heralded the start of the decline on the Pakistani Squash scene, having dominated Squash for decades with only Egyptians and later Australians vying for supremacy in between. The earliest successes were not due to sheer luck or with massive assistance from the Pakistan Squash Federation, no doubt Air Marshal Nur Khan having played a big role in developing the sports. The Squash facilities in the country were virtually non-existent apart from a few elite clubs and garrisons. For the general public, it was largely an inaccessible sports, evident from the involvement of a few Squash playing families which excelled in it. These achievements which put Pakistan’s name on the world map and the sporting prowess were all due to individual efforts and hard work on an unprecedented scale, no doubt helped by the coaches cum family members. That explained the decline which followed in the years to come in the twenty first century. Since the last of the major titles won by Jansher in 1997, no one apart from him has ever come close to winning one or to challenge the elite. The Egyptians, and the British have carried on their old legacy, while we have concentrated more on cricket and just on cricket. It seems we our national game is changed too from Hockey to Cricket. No one likes to play anything else apart from that in schools sadly. Could we imagine that we won’t have anyone in the top 50 at one time, while there are at least 6 Egyptians in the top 12. Amongst the top 5 Pakistani players, two are Jansher’s nephews being coached by their dad. Such is the state of affairs in a game with less technicalities involved as compared to any other sports and definitely not much infrastructure needed as well as being relatively cheap to be introduced on a large scale. The equipment attrition is not an issue as is the case with tennis, hence there is no excuse for not providing the facilities for the general public.

This is not just the case with Squash but with virtually every other sports in Pakistan, the green belts and parks are being converted to residential plots and plazas for commercial purposes, the scarce facilities for the youth are being taken away, less provision is there for encouraging any sports in schools, colleges and universities which could produce champions and world beaters. After all we had them; until we set our priorities right, we would never see dominance in Squash or any sports. If we want to see Jahangir handing over a British Open trophy to a Pakistani in the near future, we can’t just rely on the select few being coached by their illustrious kith and kin, but to make it accessible and promote it amongst the general public. There might be a time in our next generation when sadly no one would know about the golden era of Jahangir and Jansher Khan when they ruled the world. While the Squash fraternity continues to sing their praises even now, we should not forget their legacy…….

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