KARACHI: Back in 1986 very few had heard of Jansher Khan. When he landed in Brisbane for the World Junior Squash Championship, he was the sole Asian.
He strolled into the final and then thrashed hometown favourite Rodney Eyles in what was one of the most one-sided finals in the history of the championships.
Jansher won the final 9-2, 9-0, 9-0 against Eyles, who was one of Australia’s best players and had helped them win the world junior team title that year.
It was just a matter of time before Jansher would become the world’s No.1 squash player. Jansher was sure of it as soon as he won the world junior title. Never mind the fact that back in 1986, the great Jahangir Khan was at the peak of his career.
Hamza Khan, who on Sunday became the first Pakistani after close to 37 years to win the world junior title, should feel the same. Like Jansher he will need to think big to achieve bigger goals.
Hamza shares many similarities with Jansher. Both hail from the same city, Peshawar, and come from a family that has produced world class players like the great Qamar Zaman, a former British Open champion, and Shahid Zaman.
Just like Jansher, he hails from a modest background and has shown a lot of hunger, something that helped him to finally win the world junior title after a few failed attempts.
But Hamza will need a lot more than just these similarities in order to emulate Jansher.
Back in 1986, Jansher was a nobody when he won the world junior crown in Brisbane. At that time, Pakistan’s biggest hero was Jahangir. That’s why the news of Jansher’s victory wasn’t celebrated the way Hamza’s was on Sunday.
But Jansher didn’t mind. His sights were set on way bigger titles than the world junior championship. His target was Jahangir and his throne as the world’s number one player. And in less than a year, Jansher dethroned the previously Jahangir and in the process became the only player in squash history to simultaneously hold both the world junior and World Open titles.
And soon after his victory in the 1987 World Open in Birmingham where he stunned Jahangir in the semis and Australia’s Chris Dittmar in the final, Jansher ended the year as the No.1 player in the world.
Nobody expects Hamza to have a similar meteoric rise in the world rankings. But it’s important for him to know that with hard work and determination, such success is possible.
When a young Jansher announced soon after winning the world junior title that he would beat Jahangir, nobody took him seriously. But within a year of that announcement, Jansher had beaten the legend in a series of matches and was the world’s best player.
So, what did Jansher do to achieve such success on the professional circuit so soon after winning the junior title? Well, firstly he trained like a man possessed. He worked hard both on his fitness and his game. And perhaps more importantly, he moved to England, then the centre of the squash universe, to train under the seasoned Mohammad Yasin.
“Jansher had all the ingredients that makes a world champion,” says Yasin. “And I’ve never seen anyone working as hard as he did.”
Another aspect that helped Jansher enormously was the support by the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). For years PIA backed top national cricketers, hockey and squash players and among the biggest beneficiaries was Jansher.
Hamza, too, will need similar support. However, it’s unlikely that PIA, which is no longer the organisation it was back in Jansher’s days, will be able to offer similar support.
But it’s important that Hamza gets all out backing from a business house so that he can have the funds necessary to train and travel without having to put the burden on his father.
By winning in Melbourne, Hamza has taken the proverbial first step on a journey of a thousand miles. Whether this win marks the start of a glorious new chapter for Pakistan squash will depend on Hamza’s work ethic and the support he gets.
But for the moment, one can say that his win has given Pakistan squash a new lease of life. And that in itself is quite an achievement.