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> Jansher by Raju Chainani

Jansher Khan:
"The Last Emperor

… a retrospective of a
championship career …


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By Raju Chainani (deceased) photos
© SquashTalk archives

Jansher
Khan won 99 major international squash titles Jansher’s
titles

Jansher (left) with his great rival
and predecssor Janahgir (right) rivalry

If those Empire-builders
who turned the swords of the Pathans into squash rackets thought this
might subdue the North west Frontier tribesmen they made a terrible mistake.
The Khans, proud Pathans to a man, have been no less fearsome with rackets
in their hands and for nearly 50 years have dominated the game.

The dynasty
of champions originated from a little village, Nawakille, near Peshawar.
Hashim, Azam, Roshan, Moibullah (Senior), Jahangir and yes, the last Emperor,
Jansher.

Since 1950,
they have won 29 British Opens. When the World Open was initiated in 1975,
they were quick to engrave their name on this premier event. Jahangir
won six, Jansher a record eight.

Jansher’s
first World Open title came in 1987 at Birmingham where he defeated Jahangir
in a 108 minute semi-final and Chris Dittmar 9-5. 9-4, 4-9, 9-7 in the
final. His reign was short lived as the next World Open was held six months
later. The first rally of the final spanned 247 strokes and lasted six
minutes and sixteen seconds. Jahangir went on to win. It was to be his
sixth and last World Open Victory.

Jansher off court

At the Putura
World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Jansher won a five game thriller against
Dittmar in the 1989. There were worried looks in his corner when he was
two games down. Yasin and Qamar Zaman were his advisors and you could
sense the relief when Jansher pulled through. Poor Dittmar, he had left
his mark on the event with a semi-final win over Jahangir, a daring cross-court
nick at the end making many in the audience rub their eyes in disbelief.
But, against Jansher, it became a tale of the fittest surviving. This
was Jansher’s second World Open Victory.

His third came
in the cold of Toulouse. Airbus city, as it is known as, had hosted the
1986 World Open and made headline news. New Zealand’s Ross Norman
beat Jahangir in the final, ending an unbeaten run of five and a half
years. In 1990, Jansher had to contend with Dittmar again and did so clinically,
winning in four.

Jansher’s piercing eyes (photo Stephen
Line)

The Adelaide
Entertainment Center was the venue for the 1991 event. Ten years had passed
since Geoff Hunt’s win over Qamar Zaman. On finals day, Hunt was
at the courtside, coaching Rodney Martin who had beaten Jansher in the
quarters and Dittmar in the semis. The ten year Aussie itch was soon to
end as Martin beat Jahangir in the final. Looking back, in the period
1987-96, Jansher played in ten World Opens and this was the only time
he succumbed before reaching the final.

He set things
right the following year at the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg. South
Africa had opened its doors and there was $ 160,000 at stake, the richest
ever tournament in the history of the game so far. The $ 175,000 Mahindra
World Open in 1998 have overtaken it. At Johannesburg, it was Jansher
versus Dittmar…..again. By now, the Aussie had lost seventeen finals
to Jansher, including the 1987, 1989 and 1990 Wold Opens. This was to
be another, the scoreline 15-11, 15-9, 10-`5, 15-6.

Two of Jansher’s
eight World Open Victories came on home turf. He beat Jahangir in four
games in 1993 at Karachi and had a similar scoreline against Rodney Eyles
in 1996. In between, he had to thwart England’s attempt to upset
the applecart. Peter Marshall tried in vain at Barcelona in 1994 and the
following year, at Nicosia, Jansher overcame a brave effort from Del Harris.

Knees hampered Jansher in later years
(photo Stephen Line)

Blisters had
hampered his movement on court in his match with Harris. But, Jansher
showed he could handle the situation and it was only at the press conference
which followed that he revealed the problem with his feet. It was the
hallmark of an extraordinary player.

Some men are
unmistakable as great champions. Even in a tuxedo, Mike Tyson would look
intimidating. Bjorn Borg’s ice-cool temperament and lightness of
step were just as evident after he had changed out of his playing gear.
Jansher, though, revealed his competitive rage only when he stepped on
court. He combined stealth and aggression to near perfection.

When he takes
a final bow, the curtain would come down on five decades of Khan domination.
It is unthinkable, unmatchable in any sport. Their achievements remain
etched in memory. Jansher Khan was the sixth great champion to emerge
from Nawakille. Perhaps he can be regarded as the last Emperor.

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