THREE Jahangir’s Reign
Jahngir’s World Open victory over Geoff Hunt in 1981 was the start of
the greatest unbeaten streak not only in squash but in sport. For five
years and over 500 matches Jahangir repelled every other squash player.
was such that until one fateful day in Toulouse in 1986, Jahangir Khan
had barely lost a game. Opponents were grateful for each point they managed
to take off this phenomenal player. Anyone taking a game had something
to boast about.
to success was no secret; he was simply the fittest man in the game and
would simply wear his opponents out. He could hit winners when he wanted
to, but the strategy that was drummed into him by Rhamat was that going
for winners could bring errors, the ultimate sin of the attritional game.
It was a negative approach to the game – give your opponent nothing, let
him make mistakes. Jahangir simply kept cracking the ball into the back
corners and could keep up that furious pace until his opponents were reduced
to a pool of sweat on the wooden floor.
could be a hero for one game, but around the 40 minute mark of the match
there would be a noticeable diminution of energy accompanied by an urgent
desire for the game – and the torture – to end as quickly as possible.
The scoreline 9-7, 9-1, 9-0, became a Jahangir trademark.
came about through one of the most vigorous training regimens ever imposed
on an athlete; a seven mile run would begin the day, followed by the 400
metre torture test, a fitness aid first used by Geoff Hunt.
Australian was a gifted squash player who was playing in Australian pennant
(adult) leagues at the age of 12. But in the 60’s when the first Khan
dynasty had ended with the emergence of Jonah Barrington, Hunt realised
that all his finesse with the racket would fail unless he was fitter than
Barrington, the man who had made a firm friend of the pain threshold,
the champion who thought that if you didn’t reach the changing rooms totally
and utterly exhausted, you hadn’t tried hard enough.
Hunt set about
bringing in the Third Age of Fitness: Hashim had started it, Barrington
had taken it to new heights and Hunt was to top it. Hunt’s contribution
to squash was 400 yards sprints, with a minute rest between. It was a
way of replicating rallies that could last up to 100 shots – and sometimes
more; constant movement around a 32′ x 21′ court. And when that rally
finished there would be ten to fifteen seconds before the next one began,
equally as long, equally tiring.
There were tales
of Hunt being able to handle eight of these 400 metre sprints at a session
and his consequent battles with Barrington have become legendary. When
Barrington retired, Hunt ruled the squash world, losing the odd tournament,
but when it came to the important ones, Hunt was there at the end with
the winner’s cup in his hand.
He went on to
win eight British Opens, one more than Hashim, two more than Barrington.
He won his last British Open in 1981 beating Jahangir Khan 3/1 and reached
the dressing so depleted and dehydrated it was alleged he urinated blood.
It was Hunt’s – by then legendary – level of fitness that had to be improved
set about creating the Fourth Age of Fitness with a regime that made Hunt’s
look like a gentle jog around the park. The seven mile runs, the 400’s,
the endless court sprints and racket drills were backed up with swimming,
hill running and gym work. Whereas Hashim, Hunt and Barrington were small,
wiry men, Jahangir would have been at home as a prop forward: immense
shoulders, legs like oaks and wrists of steel. Jahangir’s Hotspur-like
unbeatable reputation made him a millionaire, a hero in Pakistan and finally
known to people around the world who knew nothing about squash.
streak lasted from November 1981 until one day in Toulouse in November
1986 when Ross Norman, a tall wiry New Zealander, ended the run. Norman
had been totally single-minded in pursuit of Jahangir, being beaten time
and time again. “One day Jahangir will be slightly off his game and I
will get him,” he vowed for five years.
in the best of all possible tournaments, the World Open. The all-glass
court shook and rattled alarmingly and the squash ball skidded because
of the reflective material stuck on to it for greater television visibility.
(Ironically it was the ball that Jahangir sponsored and recommended).
Jahangir also had a knee problem, but perhaps his time had come.
many years later to the enormous pressure he felt each time he went on
court to defend his unbeaten record. In Toulouse, with the court, the
ball and his knee, it all became too much and he succumbed in four games.
There was absolute silence after Norman won match point. And then pandemonium.
By the time I had rushed to the press room, New Zealand was on the phone
– followed by the world’s press. Norman was surrounded by people, mikes
were being stuck in his face and journalists were begging to speak to
him on the phone. I picked up a ringing phone and found someone from BBC
asking to talk to Norman. I handed the phone to him as he came off one
phone where he’d been talking to New Zealand radio. That lucky BBC reporter
had the new world champion on the phone. The BBC sent me Â£45 for that
five seconds of work.
far from finished; in the next tournament he beat Norman in three – business
as usual. But in Stripes Squash Club in west London, another Khan, Jansher
Khan son of Roshan, was in training with only one aim in view – to beat
was making up for the death of his brother Torsan, Jansher had a heavier
load to bear. His elder brother Mohibullah was in a British jail doing
eight years on a drugs charge. Mohibullah claimed he had been forced to
carry the cannabis in his squash bags by Pakistan gangsters. The courts
didn’t believe his story and he did his full eight years because he would
never admit to the crime or give the names.
to THE KHAN STORY. PART FOUR The two JK’s]