The Incredible Khans of Squash: Part II America
by Martin Bronstein. Copyright August 2000
TWO From Softball to Hardball in 12 months
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.)
Sharif, who 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.
Jahangir Khan's 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.
Jahangir's elder 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 made.
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.
|Azam and Hashim Khan at the North American Open. (photo appears courtesy Jahangir Khan and Arif Sarfraz © 2000 SquashTalk )|
|Roshan and Hashim fulfilled the Pakistan Air Force close alliance with the US Military, giving an exhibition in the late fifties at the US Army's West Point. (photo appears courtesy Jahangir Khan and Arif Sarfraz © 2000 SquashTalk )|
|Mohibullah Khan won oneNorth American Open Crown before Sharif (here shown on right) succeeded him.|
Gul Khan, Mo's younger brother, also came to the US and brought an immense talent, especially deception and touch. He was too good natured, though, to attain the championships. Gul was extremely close to Sharif. Photo © 2000 SquashTalk, WPSA archive, Photo by Ham Biggar)
|Sharif Khan owned the professional squash circuit in North America for the '70s and much of the '80s. (Photo © 2000 SquashTalk, WPSA archive)|
|Sharif's brothers Charlie (left) and Aziz (right) brought high excitement and personality to the North American tour. Aziz was perennially in the top four.|
|Pakistan Squash website by:|