While hockey is the national sport of Pakistan, squash is the sport which makes the country famous. For the better part of five decades, Pakistan has completely dominated squash like no other place in the world. Between 1950 and 1997, Pakistan won more than 30 British Open titles, 14 World Open titles, and many PSA professional titles.
During the reign of Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan in the 80s and 90s, squash in Pakistan reached incredible peaks of success, although they were hardly the first players to excel in the game. Hashim Khan, a former squash coach in the British Army, was the first Pakistani to dominate the sport. When Pakistan gained independence, Hashim joined as a coach for the Pakistan Air Force. Hashim impressed the officers there so much they paid out of their own pockets to send him to England to compete.
Although Hashim was in his late forties, he displayed great speed and skill as he competed in the highly esteemed British Open. Hashim got the best of current champion Mahmoud Karim of Egypt four times, and went on to win seven British Open titles over the next eight years. His only loss was to fellow Pakistani and cousin, Roshan Khan.
Hashim began his illustrious squash career as an unpaid ballboy, retrieving balls hit out of court by Army officers. After dark, Hashim and the other ballboys would finally take the courts themselves. Under the dim light of the moon, Hashim began building his stamina and skill that would later make him famous.
At 28, Hashim was still virtually unknown – but this would soon change. In 1944, when Hashim met the Indian champion Abdul Bari in the Western India Tournament in Bombay, he showed his agility and fitness on the court. Hashim beat Abdul Bari at each meeting, his intense focus allowing him to anticipate his opponent’s moves.
Despite his break from the game as he coached, Hashim never lost that focus. His performance in the British Open solidified his reputation as Pakistan’s squash hero, but he would not be the last. Hashim Khan had laid the foundation, but other Pakistanis would continue to build on it – most notably Jahangir and Jansher Khan.
While both Pakistanis displayed incredible skill, it is Jahangir who is considered to be the greatest squash player of all time. During Jahangir’s career, he won the World Open six times and the British Open a record ten times. For five years Jahangir was unbeaten, winning an amazing 555 matches in a row. This winning streak was not only the longest consecutive string of wins in squash history; it remains one of the longest unbeaten runs by any athlete in top-level professional sports.
Since 1998, however, when Jansher Khan was defeated in the British Open final, Pakistan squash has fallen from its dizzying heights. Although Pakistanis still make up a considerable percentage of players in both men’s and women’s games, no Pakistani has reached the final of either the British or World open since Jansher. Pakistan has numerous training centers around the country, and Pakistanis continue to be hopeful one of their own will once again take center stage in the world of professional squash.