Schumacher…The guy who was once Invincible!

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Not even the avid Formula One fans believed, anyone could make such a comeback in a high octane sports as F1. But Michael Schumacher, the record seven time World Champion, in his forties, proved everyone wrong. Admittedly it was not the comeback he would have liked, not being able to win any races, but getting points and even a podium with his Mercedes which was no match for the Red Bulls, Ferraris and McLarens was quite an achievement in its own. He was undoubtedly disappointed at his performances some of them due to sheer bad luck, but in between he showed glimpses of his illustrious past. That showed the vulnerability and infallibility of a former champ when things don’t go your way. Michael Schumacher arguably is one of the best Formula one drivers of this era, with a record once considered unassailable, till the golden haired Red Bull boy Vettel, another German challenged that authority and burst on the scene with four consecutive World Championships. His sheer dominance when in his prime is beyond doubt and his work ethic unquestionable.

Whether the mighty Schumacher be able to make another comeback this time, is a big question mark. This time the odds are again not on his side and it is a much more difficult task at hand, things which are controlled by the nature and the Omnipotent above there, not entirely in his own hands. The news is that the doctors are just beginning to take him out of his medically induced therapeutic comatose state after nearly four weeks in the Grenoble Neurosurgical Unit, which is famed for treating many a skiing injuries caused by falls in the surrounding slopes of the French Alps.

The most extraordinary driver’s origins were most ordinary, as is the case with most great men in history. His father, a bricklayer, ran the local kart track, where Mrs Schumacher operated the canteen. As a four-year old Michael enjoyed playing on a pedal kart, though when his father fitted it with a small motorcycle engine the future superstar promptly crashed into a lamppost. But Michael quickly mastered his machine and won his first kart championship at six, following which his far from affluent parents arranged sponsorship from wealthy enthusiasts that enabled Michael to make rapid progress. By 1987 he was German and European kart champion. In 1990, at the age of 21, he won the German F3 championship and was hired by Mercedes. The next year he made a stunning Formula One debut, qualifying an astonishing seventh in a less than ordinary Jordan at Spa, whereupon he was snapped up by Benetton, with whom in 1992 he won his first F1 race, again at Spa. 

Over the next four seasons with Benetton he won two world championships. He showed his worth against the likes of Ayrton Senna beating him on a few occasions till his untimely death at the San Marino Grand Prix. Not without courting controversy, as the great champions before and after him, on many an occasion, especially his collisions with Damon Hill and Villeneuve in the title deciding races, the latter one docked his second place in the Championship as punishment. After winning his second title in 1995, he went to Ferrari which hadn’t won a title since 79. The Ferrari family affair didn’t blossom from the start. After finishing second overall in 1998, Schumacher’s 1999 season was interrupted by a broken leg (the only injury in his career). The fruits borne by his sheer determination, intelligence, dedication and an endless quest for improvement work brought five consecutive World titles, bringing his tally to 7, overhauling the great Fangio in the record books he would thereafter begin to rewrite. Such was the domination by Schumi led Ferrari, in 2002 he won 11 races and was on podium in all 17. In 2004, he won 13 out of the 18 races, the title a foregone conclusion and Ferrari being the Constructors Champions the umpteenth time.

Being supremely talented, adapting to changing circumstances, bold overtakes and manoeuvres, highly skilful driving in adverse weather conditions was what set him apart from his peers. His fitness was amongst the best, even in his forties as testified by his fellow drivers. He was keenly aware of the limitations of his car, never losing any opportunity to score points in the races he knew he couldn’t win. His feedback to the team, which is vital for any car development was invariably excellent and helped develop Ferrari into a world beater in the late 90s and early part of the 2000s, winning six consecutive Constructors Titles. He was very close to the mechanics, team members, always thanking and encouraging them for their role in this high intensity team sports

Finishing second in the 2006 championship, the aging superstar still at his peak, having won 7 races to bring his tally to 91, decided to hang up his helmet. But the boredom of home lured him back to the fast lanes of F1 in 2010. Michael Schumacher said of the second part of his career. “It wasn’t as successful as before but I still learned a lot for life. I found that losing can be both more difficult and more instructive than winning. Now is a good time to go.”

We still believe it is too early for Schumi to go. A man once in complete control at the wheels, has lost his grip on life. Only time will tell, whether he would be able to regain his full physical and mental functions. It is a long dark tunnel with a faint glimmer of hope. The helmet undoubtedly saved his life in the Alps, but whether he would rue his escapade or not, we can only guess. Our thoughts and prayers for the man who lit the fast lanes of Formula One for his millions of fans worldwide.

Grazie Schumi!Image

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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