The Incredible Khans of Squash: Part III Jahangir
by Martin Bronstein. Copyright August 2000
THREE Jahangir's Reign
His superiority 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.
Jahangir's key 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.
Many players 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.
This superiority 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.
This slight 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 upon.
Rahmat Khan 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.
The unbeaten 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.
It happened 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.
He confessed 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 £45 for that five seconds of work.
Jahangir was 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 Jahangir.
Whereas Jahangir 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.
|An early shot of Jahangir. (photo appears courtesy Jahangir Khan and Arif Sarfraz © 2000 SquashTalk )|
|Jahangir collects one of his many trophies. (photo appears courtesy Jahangir Khan and Arif Sarfraz © 2000 SquashTalk )|
|Jahangir on court with another Pakistani great, Hiddy Jahan.|
|Jahangir in action in Qatar against Phil Kenyon. Photo © 2000 SquashTalk, Jahangir Khan Collection)|
Jahangir in action in Qatar against Jansher. Photo © 2000 SquashTalk, Jahangir Khan Collection)
|Jahangir's older brother Torsham died tragically on court of a heart condition. Jahangir's was determined to honor his brother with his play.|
|Jahangir crashed the North America hardball circuit in 1983 and beat the then American Hardball king, Mark Talbott, in 10 of 11 meetings between 1983 and 86. Photo © 2000 SquashTalk, WPSA Archives)|
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