There was a time when Pakistan’s name was synonymous with squash title triumphs. Such was its dominance of the sport. Pakistan remained the biggest powerhouse of world squash for almost 50 years. Between 1950 and 1997, Pakistan players won over 30 British Open, 14 World Open titles and scores of other major international tournaments — a staggering feat that remains unmatched to this day.
The country produced a number of crafty athletes like Azam Khan, Roshan Khan, Mohibullah Khan and Qamar Zaman.In the ‘80s and the ‘90s, Pakistan’s squash graph continued its upward trend thanks to the emergence of Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan.
The two Khans, who were not related, took the country to new heights, sweeping all the major titles. That era remains the golden chapter in the illustrious history of Pakistan squash.Jahangir won six World Open titles and the British Open a record 10 times. Jahangir, who is 53 now, also holds the record for the longest winning streak by any athlete in any sport. He is said to have won a staggering 555 matches consecutively from 1981 to 1986.
Just when Jahangir’s talents started waning, in walked Jansher who won the most-sought after World Open title a record eight times and the British Open — the Wimbledon of squash — an impressive six times.
Pundits have long debated whether squash could have players like Jahangir or Jansher again.Former World No 1 James Willstrop believes squash is unlikely to produce players like Jahangir and Jansher.
In an interview with ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS) on the sidelines of Qatar Classic staged in Doha recently, the 6’3” tall Englishman also spoke about his career, changes in the game and his desire to see squash at Olympics.
Following are the excerpts of the interview:
Q: You won many accolades. Looking back, how do you see your career?
A: I am very happy. I am really happy with my achievements. I have enjoyed the amount of squash I have played over the years. Some of the tournaments I have won are sweet memories for me. I have also faced lots of difficulties but I am pleased that I faced them and did well.
Q: What do you think are the highlights of your career?
A: I enjoy playing big tournaments like the World Open and British Open. I also like to come for Qatar Classic which is another major event. I also enjoy playing in New York and London. My best memory was in India (in 2012) when I won the Masters to become World No 1. My girlfriend, my family were there to support me. Celebrating that achievement together was a wonderful experience.
Q: What is your future goal?
A: As far as my goal is concerned, I want to enjoy my game and do well.
Q: In squash we don’t see players of your height at the top level. Is height an advantage or a disadvantage?
A: It’s more of a disadvantage. But it doesn’t mean you can’t play squash if you are tall. But it’s better to be a bit smaller and lighter. Not too small and not too tall.
Q: Who are your favourite players?
A: Amr Shabana, Ramy Ashour. Those are my two favourites. Among current players, I love watching Karim Abdel Gawad play. He is a brilliant player.
Q: Would you like to see inclusion of squash in Olympics?
A. Yes, it should be there. I would like to see the sport in the Games. It’s been a long time. It’s not an easy process to make it happen. We have tried so hard for long.
Q: In terms of fitness, how do you think the game has changed in the last 10 years or so?
A: There have been many changes. It has become a fast game after the change in scoring system. The glass court came around 20 years ago which made the game faster, more attacking, and because of that players have to be fitter and more agile now. The speed is faster than it has ever been. I am not saying any one generation is better than the others but the game has moved fast. Past players were great too. It would be a fascinating conversation about how the past players would be in this era and how current players would be in that era. The training methods have changed. We now know much better how to remain fit and recover from injuries. We feel lucky to be in this age. It will continue to get better.
Q: Considering the improvements, do you think squash can produce players like Jahangir or Jansher?
A: This is a very tough question, I have to say. I won’t say it will not happen but it’s definitely going to be very hard. Nour El Sherbini (Egypt) has held the World No 1 position in women’s rankings for a long time. It’s quite an achievement but I will not consider it domination. It’s very tough to win tournaments time after time for a player as Jahangir or Jansher did. Maybe because there is more depth in the game and more players are playing using scientific methods which has toughened the competition.