TWO From Softball to Hardball in 12 months
Hashim made his last appearance in the British Open final at the age of
42 (or was it 47?) He then turned to America where it took him just one
year to master the U.S. game, played with a hard ball in a court 2 Â½ feet
narrower than the standard court. It was a game perfectly suited to Hashim
at his age – less running to the ball, quicker reactions and more racket
He won the North
American Open at his second attempt, beating his brother Azam in the final.
That win started a domination of the American game that lasted even longer
than that of the British game. By the time Hashim, Azam and Roshan were
too old for the American circuit, nephew Mohibullah took over and when
he lost it for good in 1969 it was to Sharif, Hashim’s eldest son. (There
were to be another six sons and three daughters.)
had been given a public school education at Millfields, an expensive school
in Somerset, courtesy of a squash-mad headmaster, followed his father
into the game. He was lured to Canada by Ralph Gardiner of Toronto’s Skyline
Club and from 1969 onwards, Sharif the Sheriff (as he became known) made
the North American title his own, winning it 12 times in 13 years, with
his brothers Aziz and Charlie usually in the hunt.
Sharif at full
steam was an awesome sight, the most explosive of players who hit the
hard ball with all the weight of his very stocky frame and moved with
surprising agility. He and another half a dozen of the top players made
the North American game a tremendous spectacle at a time when the softball
game had become one of attrition, with matches being measured in hours
rather than by skill.
In 1960, Hashim
accepted an offer to go to the United States as professional for the Uptown
Athletic Club in Detroit. His physician was a Dr. Talbott, who had just
moved into his father’s house with its own squash court. It was here that
the doctor’s son, Mark Talbott, then 8 years old, first saw the great
man play. Sixteen years later Mark Talbott won 17 of 19 tournaments on
the WPSA (the so-called World Professional Squash Association) hardball
circuit and became the new champion. With his cool court demeanor and
the ability to retrieve the almost impossible, Talbott seemed ready to
rule for a long time.But
then along came another Khan, one who was to eradicate every squash record
in the book.
melodramatic story would tax the credibility of even Hollywood: it started
in 1979 when he was not selected to play in the world championships in
Australia, the Pakistani selectors judging him too weak from recent illness.
Jahangir went off his own bat, and promptly won the world amateur title,
at the age of 15.
brother, Torsan,meanwhile had moved up into the top 15 in the world rankings
and was president of the International Squash Players Associations (ISPA).
Their cousin, Rhamat, son of Nasrullah (Barrington’s old coach) had climbed
to 12 in the rankings. He and Torsan planned to buy a 50 percent share
in a Sussex squash club, bring Jahangir to England and train him to beat
the long-reigning British Open champion Geoff Hunt.
Just when the
deeds were to be signed, Torsan suffered a fatal heart attack on court
in Australia. Jahangir, heartbroken at the death of the brother he idolised,
returned to Pakistan vowing never to play the game again. At this point
Rhamat made a decision whose repercussions would be felt for years to
come: he decided to give up his own career as a player (“I was number
12 but because of constant injuries, I didn’t think I would climb any
higher”) and concentrate on fulfilling the plans that he and Torsan had
His first job
was to convince Jahangir to play again, saying that was what Torsan would
have wanted. Then he had to convince all concerned that Jahangir must
train and live in England. He finally persuaded all the uncles, officials
and the head of Pakistan International Airways (who sponsored most of
the players) to his way of thinking. “All right,” he was warned, “but
if you don’t show results you will have to answer to the nation”. A line
right out of a bad soap opera but one vouched for by Rahmat.
It was to become
even more incredible: Rhamat said it would take two years to get Jahangir
to the top. Torsan died on November 28, 1979. Jahangir took the world
championship from Geoff Hunt in Toronto on November 28, 1981. I witnessed
that match and saw the longest game in history: the first game lasted
56 minutes which Hunt won 9-7, But Jahangir had followed orders – keep
the ball in play and don’t go for winners. That 56 minutes had extracted
every bit of energy out of Hunt, who himself had been famous for the most
punishing training routines of any squash player. The punisher had been
punished, and Jahangir took the next three games in under 30 minutes to
become world champion at the age of 17.
to THE KHAN STORY. PART THREE: The reign of Jahangir