The barren run

April 19, 2020

After Pakistan squash’s golden era which began with Hashim Khan’s stunning triumph ended in 1963, it were players like Aftab Jawaid and Gogi Alauddin, who kept the flame alive. Unfortunately they could never win the coveted British Open

Hashim Khan’s historic British Open debut in 1951 which ended with a stunning title-winning triumph laid the foundation of Pakistan’s squash empire. Out of nowhere this aging man came to England and just rode roughshod over the world’s best squash players to win the most coveted title in the sport.

For the next 12 years, Pakistan had a stranglehold over the world circuit with Hashim winning six more British Open titles while his younger brother Azam Khan claiming it on four occasions. In between Roshan Khan, father of the legendary Jahangir Khan, added his name to the list of British Open winners in 1957. Mohibullah Jr, nephew of Hashim and Azam, became the fourth Pakistani to annex the trophy when he won a memorable finale in 1962.

However, starting from 1963 Pakistan faced a major British Open title drought as for 13 years no player from the country could win the trophy.

It’s not that nobody tried.

There were several Pakistani players, who were counted among the best in the world during the sixties and early seventies. Most of them came agonisingly close but failed to win what was then regarded as the most precious prize in international squash.

AFTAB JAWAID

Leading the list of top Pakistani players, who unfortunately never managed to win the British Open was Aftab Jawaid, the man who featured in four finals.

Aftab was a Punjab-born Pathan, whose grandfather was a professional working for the Maharaja of Kashmir. His father, Aurganzeb Khan, worked at the squash club in Srinagar. Just a few years before partition, Aftab’s family moved to Quetta where the youngster started showing a flair for squash in the fities. By the sixties, Aftab had established himself as the best amateur in Pakistan and then made his presence felt internationally by winning the British amateur title in 1963. It was the same year when Mohibullah Sr tried and failed in his attempt to win the British Open crown. Aftab won two more British amateur trophies before reaching the final of the British Open in 1966. He also reached the final in ‘67 and 68 and then again in 1971 but could never win the title. He initially lost to Egyptian great Abou Taleb and later to Irishman Jonah Barrington.

Aftab’s cousin, Muhammad Yasin, was also a top-rated pro in the sixties but was unable to win a major title.

Then there was Sharif Khan, the eldest son of Hashim Khan. Unlike the elder Khans, Sharif was educated at an expensive public school in England. Though a supremely gifted player, he didn’t take squash seriously as his senior compatriots. In his youth, Sharif moved to the US and made the North American title his own, winning it 12 times in 13 years.

GOGI ALAUDDIN

It was in the seventies that Pakistan really managed to bounce back in the world of squash. And it was because of a group of young players, who helped Pakistan’s revival after a barren run that started in the early sixties with the exit of the first generation of Pakistan’s British Open winners.

At the top of the list was Gogi Alauddin. A son of a squash professional, Gogi was initially a gifted badminton player, who later switched to squash making it his full-time profession.

In 1970, Gogi went to England on a trip sponsored by some of his friends and won the British amateur title on his debut. He defended the title in 1971.

Gogi joined the professional circuit in 1973 and was soon seen as a major contender for major international titles. With his excellent lobs, sidewalls and nicks, he became one of the most feared players on the circuit. Gogi’s reputation grew tremendously when he defeated the great Geoff Hunt in the semi-finals of the 1973 British Open but he failed to regain the title for Pakistan and lost to Barrington in the final.

“I was at my best during 1973 to 75 and won almost all the major titles except for the British Open, something which I still regret,” Gogi once told me.

In 1975, Gogi was seen as the hot favourite for the British Open having reached the final in commanding fashion. But he lost again, this time to Qamar Zaman, the man remembered as the champion, who regained the British Open title for Pakistan (I’ll share Qamar’s story on these pages next week).

“I still don’t know what happened during that final. Before the final everybody thought that I would win the title. But I lost. It was the worst day of my career. I think maybe I became too overconfident,” Gogi lamented.

One of the high points of Gogi’s career came in 1976. The occasion was the grand opening of the PIA Squash Complex in Karachi. The national carrier hosted the PIA Open at the venue where all the top players of the world assembled for the event.

Gogi was in his element during the tournament as he edged out Geoff Hunt in the semi-finals and then prevailed over Mohibullah Jr in an equally grueling final to win the title.

Another Pakistani, who could have won the British Open was Gogi’s close friend Hidayat Jahan. Hiddy, as he was later known among his peers, hailed from Quetta. He was part of a young pack of Pkistani squash players who made seventies the golden period of world squash. But Hiddy, who married a British woman, switched allegiance and rose the the rank of World No. 2 as a Briton. He was a favourite to win the British Open in 1982. He was 32 and at the peak of his career, when he faced an opponent almost half his age in the final of the British Open that year. That young boy called Jahangir Khan, won the title and then went on to win more to create a record that still exists.

Also part of the young pack in the seventies were Torsam Khan and Sajjad Muneer. Torsam, was an exciting player on the circuit, but unfortunately died after collapsing on the court while playing a match in Adelaide.

To be continued.


Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News [email protected]

The barren run