The Khan Dynasty

By Muhammad Nabeel
Fri, 03, 21

The sports that are followed in Pakistan, and also those that might not have a massive audience in Pakistan, but are meaningful nonetheless....


Azam Khan (left) with his brother Hashim Khan

Sports is boundless; there is so much happening all the time, all over the world; and therefore it’s not the easiest thing to keep up with the world of sports these days. Still, in the yearly sports round up, I strive to condense, as much as possible, the sports that are followed in Pakistan, and also those that might not have a massive audience in Pakistan, but are meaningful nonetheless.

Unfortunately though, sometimes an important event gets missed out; and that is exactly what happened when the yearly sports round up was published for the year 2020.

For an ardent sports enthusiast, this was too significant an event to miss out the sports round up; after all it relates to one of the first true sports superstars that this country witnessed. The great Azam Khan! The younger brother of the legendary Hashim Khan, Azam Khan breathed his last on March 28, 2020 at the age of 93 in London due to COVID-19.

Azam Khan

Since Azam Khan’s name was regrettably forgotten for the yearly roundup, by remembering him, the game of squash and some of its greatest exponents on his first anniversary, I hope I’ll be able to redeem myself, although, the man deserves much more admiration and acknowledgement than this.

There’s no mention of squash in the national newspapers these days - time passes so quickly and those who don’t adjust with this rapid pace of time get left behind and unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to this once magnificent sport in Pakistan.

Many young readers may not even know that this country, during the five decades from the 1950s till the late 1990s, produced the greatest names in the world of squash. The Khans from Pakistan ruled the world of squash and their dominance put the Mongol khans to shame.

The British Open is arguably the most illustrious squash tournament in the world, and before the establishment of the World Squash Championship in the 1970s, British Open was generally regarded as the de facto world championship in squash.

From 1951 till 1963, the four great Khans, Hashim, Azam, Roshan and Mohibullah (more commonly known as Mo Khan) dominated the British Open. In fact, from 1954 till 1962, for nine long years, both the British Open finalists came from Pakistan. Hashim Khan won the title seven times and Azam won it four times during this period of utter dominance. Roshan Khan and Mo Khan both won it once.

Jansher Khan

I’m old enough to remember watching the great Jansher Khan in the 1990s at the absolute peak of his powers and vividly remember watching even the greatest of them all, the one and only Jahangir Khan (Roshan Khan’s younger son), but at the twilight of his glorious career. The slipping of Azam Khan’s name has provided me an opportunity to talk about squash and the mighty Khans of the squash world that took the sports to unprecedented heights, and whose names should not die as swiftly as the popularity of Squash did in Pakistan.

So, although this article will predominantly be about Azam Khan, I would not like to miss this chance to tell the stories of players like Jahangir who is recognized as the greatest player in the game’s history. Jahangir’s exploits in squash are the stuff of legends, the man absolutely dominated squash in the 80s and this is a gross understatement. The kind of dominance we are talking about here has never been witnessed in sports. Jahangir won his first of six World Open titles at the age of 17 and the British Open 10 times in succession from 1982 to 1991, the next six British Open were won by Jansher Khan so for sixteen years in a row the British Open was won by either Jahangir or Jansher Khan.

Jahangir Khan

However, this is still not the most remarkable of Jahangir’s achievements. Khan was unbeaten for a jaw-dropping 555 consecutive games, no, this is not a misprint, it is 555 consecutive games unbeaten for five years and eight months. He once even won an international tournament without dropping a point, yes not a game but point! So whenever you see a Jahangir Khan photograph in action rest assured he would have won that point and perhaps the game and most likely that championship too.

Anyway I can go on and on about Jahangir Khan as it is really hard to not get distracted by him when you talk about squash, but, it was necessary to talk about Jahangir and Jansher to understand what squash meant for Pakistan only a couple of decades ago. Actually what Jahangir and Jansher Khan did was to reinforce an empire created by the Khans of the past like Hashim Khan, Roshan Khan (Jahangir’s father) and of course the great Azam Khan.

Roshan Khan (left), Azam Khan (centre), Hashim Khan (right)

Azam Khan, who had never played Squash till he was 26 won four British Open titles from 1959 to 1962. Azam Khan was a Tennis coach who took up Squash on his elder brother’s advice and reached the semifinal at the British Open within two years only to lose to his elder brother Hashim Khan in 1953.

Azam Khan came up against Hashim Khan in the final on three different occasions and lost every time. However, this was perhaps down to the Pashtun culture; and probably out of sheer respect for his 11 year elder brother Hashim, Azam lost every time. Azam and Hashim’s dominance was dubbed as “family affair” by the British media and the tournament organizers started placing both Azam and Hashim in the same group, and as a result Azam lost to his brother in the semis in 1956 and 1957.

This gave Roshan Khan an opportunity to make it to the final on both occasions losing to Hashim Khan in 1956 and eventually beating the great Hashim Khan next year.

Azam Khan won his first British Open in 1959 beating his nephew Mo Khan in the final. The suspicion that everyone had that Azam had been deliberately losing in the finals and the semifinals against his elder brother was more or less confirmed in 1960 when Azam beat Roshan in the final to avenge his brother’s 1957 defeat at Roshan Khan’s hands. This final saw Azam Khan at his ruthless best as he dispatched Roshan Khan 9-1, 9-0, 9-0 in a game that lasted only 19 minutes much to the dismay of the paying spectators.

Roshan Khan was a distant relative of the brothers Hashim and Azam and there was a rivalry between them so this victory also served as a timely reminder that Azam Khan was the undisputed Great Khan of the time!

Azam Khan settled in the UK in 1956 and started coaching at the New Grampians Club which he later purchased and ran for more than half a century. He trained future champions like Jonah Barrington who won the first of his five British Open titles in 1967. Just two weeks prior to his first title win, Barrington played a practice match against Azam Khan, who had retired five years earlier, and could only take one point in three games!

Azam Khan passed on his legacy to his son Wasil Khan who claimed a British Junior Championship during his school days but his passion was elsewhere, however, Wasil’s daughter Carla Khan inherited the passion for squash and rose to become a top-20 player.

Azam Khan was a winner; a man who had the utmost respect for his elder brother and a passion for the game of squash that helped put a young nation on the world map. Azam Khan for his achievements in squash was conferred with the Pride of Performance Award in 1961. These are our national heroes who in such difficult circumstances made a name for Pakistan and the nation is forever indebted to them!