Four: And then came Jansher
Jansher Khan was completely different to Jahangir, who was medium height and
squat, shy and serious. Jansher was tall, thin, undisciplined and humourous.
When he was world number one he told some Dutch journalists he was retiring
and taking up tennis. They swallowed it hook line and sinker – as did many
In 1986 Jansher was
training hard in West London. He would line up four or five players and play
them one after the other – and beat them all 3/0. If he stayed on court for
three continuous hours, facing world class players, he was happy. He was determined
to beat Jahangir at his own game – fitness.
The two JK’s, as
they became know, met for the first time in the first round of the Pakistan
Open in December 1986 and Jansher took a game off Jahangir. Three months later
they met in the final of the Spanish open, again Jahangir won 3/1. When Jahangir
demolished Jansher 9-6, 9-0, 9-5 in the 1987 British Open in April, it appeared
that Jansher was just another dreamer. Nobody could have guessed what was
to happen over the coming year.
It started in the
Hong Kong Open in September 1987 when Jansher beat Jahangir in the semi-final.
Not just beat him, but beat him 3/0. That historic win was the start of an
eight match domination over the formerly unbeatable Jahangir. In Birmingham
in September Jansher beat Jahangir in the semi-final of the world open and
went on to become world champion.
had a new challenge and in March 1988 he reversed Jansher’s winning streak
and went on to beat Jansher 11 times in their next 15 meetings. Their match
in the 1988 World Open in Amsterdam had one historic and unforgettable feature;
the first rally of the first game lasted 6 minutes and 15 seconds – and ended
in a let.
There was nothing
fancy about the game they played, a mesmerising, metronomic repitition of
a simple pattern as the ball was hit off two walls into the back corner, only
to be returned in the same manner. This wasn’t squash so much as two proud
rutting, head-butting deer fighting for supremacy of the herd. It was squash
fitness being pushed beyond intelligent boundaries. Jahangir won that match
3/0, soaked with sweat right down to the toes of his socks. Jansher, dry by
comparison, was still moving silkily around the court, only his eyes sinking
into his head showing the depth of exertion.
They met for the
last time in the World Open in 1993 and Jansher won 3/1. In all they had faced
each other 37 times in competition with Jansher winning 19 times to Jahangir’s
18 victories. But on game count, Jahangir led 79 to 74 and on total points
had won just 23 points more than Jansher.
that year, his body no longer able to take the stresses of the game. It was
a body that, for 15 years, had been subjected to a daily regimen that would
have broken any marathon runner. He had won the British Open ten years in
succession from 1982 -199, a record that will almost certainly stand for a
very long time. If other countries thought the Pakistani domination would
disappear with Jahangir, then Jansher had other ideas; he took up where Jahangir
left off, dominating the rankings and winning the British Open six times in
By 1997 his knees
were giving him trouble and his fitness was decreasing. His opponents accused
him of blocking access to the ball and constant fishing for penalty strokes.
He just managed to hold off the challenge of the emerging Scot Peter Nicol
in the 1997 British Open to scrape a 3/2 victory and again there were accusations
of blocking unpenalised by a weak referee.
A year later in the
same venue Peter Nicol and his coach Neil Harvey devised a game plan to beat
Jansher: tight on the wall into the back corners and no cross courts for the
lanky Jansher to volley for winners. After a long first game, won by Nicol
17-16, Jansher realised that his usual boast “I am fitter, so I win” was no
longer true. He gave up and lost the next two games 15-4, 15-5.
The Khan Era had
finally come to an end. From 1951 when Hashim had won his first British Open,
Pakistan had been a huge, dominating force in squash for 47 years. Nicol’s
victory was decisive in more ways than one; because the Pakistan Squash Federation
had become complacent during the reign of Jahangir and Jansher, the junior
development programme had not been rigorous enough. Where once there had been
six Pakistanis in the top ten, this year there is only one Pakistani in the
world top 20.
Last year’s British
Open in Aberdeen saw a lone Pakistani player, Amjad Khan, in a field of 32.
Jahangir, now a vice-president of the World Squash Federation, commented a
few weeks ago that the young Pakistanis won’t work hard enough, won’t sacrifice
enough. Probably Jahangir’s and Jansher’s feats look easy to them – they don’t
understand the years of grindingly hard training that went along with their
innate talent. The Khan era is well and truly over. But what an era, what
a domination and what records! And who knows what the future might bring.
to THE KHAN STORY. PART ONE]