From 1981, Pakistani squash player Jahangir Khan began his global dominance of this indoor sport. No one could touch Jahangir by a barge pole for 5 years 8 months until his unbeaten run of 555 consecutive matches was broken by New Zealand’s Ross Norman in 1986 World Championships in France. This was the longest undefeated streak by any athlete in top-level professional sports and Jahangir’s unique achievement finds due mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. Later, however, Jahangir met his match, and by coincident, his rival was also a Pakistani; Jansher Khan. Then came a period, when the duo ruled world squash until 1993, when Jahangir hung his boots. Today, squash is dominated by Egyptian men and women but no one has the capability to challenge Jahangir’s awesome feat in the foreseeable future.
Born on December 10, 1963, Jahangir Khan was no child prodigy. On the contrary as a little kid, he didn’t even look fit to enter any sports, let alone squash. But squash ran in Jahangir’s family and his father Roshan Khan was a leading international player in late fifties and early sixties. Roshan Khan won the prestigious British Open Championship in 1957 at a time, when two other Pakistanis were dominating world squash. Of these, the most successful was Hashim Khan, who was a non-stop winner from 1951 until Roshan broke his 6-title winning streak in 1957. However, Hashim won the British Open one more time in 1958 after which he handed over the reign to Azam Khan. Azam won British Open for next 4 years from 1959 to 1962. The Pakistani stranglehold of British Open ended after Mo Khan’s title victory in 1963. By then however, British Open saw a Pakistani champion for 13 years on trot. After a long title drought, the next Pakistani champion at British Open was Jahangir Khan in 1982.
Earlier however, Roshan Khan did his best to prepare his son for big-time squash but being physically quite weak, Jahangir couldn’t make much progress. In fact, Doctors advised the family that young Jahangir should be kept away from rigorous physical activities since he had hernia for which, he was operated twice. After Jahangir got rid of hernia, his father still coaxed Jahangir into taking up squash because it was their family game. When Jahangir didn’t show much improvement under his father’s tutelage, elder brother Torsam assumed the coach’s role.
In 1979, when Jahangir Khan was not quite 16, Pakistan selectors decided against including him in team-event for the upcoming World Championships in Australia. His weak-looking physique went against him. But Jahangir still entered the tournament in the Individual Category, when a Nigerian player withdrew. In the first round, Jahangir faced Switzerland’s Lars Kvant. The Swiss was among the world’s top five and he showed it by easily taking the first two games from the young Pakistani. Jahangir trailed 2-5 in the third, when he found his range of shots. This was a remarkable comeback for young Jahangir as he won the last three games to cause a huge upset. From here, Jahangir progressed game by game and Australian media billed him as a Pakistani whizz kid. He reached the final and faced world’s leading amateur player England’s Phil Kenyon. Jahangir kept the winning tempo and won the tournament to everyone’s amazement. That was also the last Amateur tournament as squash was soon to become a professional sport.
One month after Jahangir’s miraculous victory in Brisbane, his coach and elder brother Torsam suddenly died. Jahangir was drowned in sorrow and refused to play any further. But his father and other relatives consoled him by saying that he should continue playing as a tribute to his brother. Once convinced, Jahangir continued under the guidance of his cousin Rehmat Khan, who incidentally, had married Bollywood starlet Salma Agha. Later, however, they were divorced.
At age 17 in 1981, Jahangir became the youngest World-Open winner by beating Australia’s Geoff Hunt, who had been the reigning champion for the past 4 years. That tournament marked Jahangir’s 555-match unbeaten journey, lasting more than 5 years. By now, Jahangir had acquired incredible fitness and stamina thanks to Rehmat Khan’s tremendous hard work. Jahangir’s playing style was based on wearing down his opponents on long rallies played at a furious pace. In 1982, Jahangir left everyone awestruck by winning International Squash Players Association Championship without losing a single point.
Jahangir’s 555-match unbeaten streak was finally broken by New Zealand’s Ross Norman in 1986 World Championship at Toulouse. Norman had been losing to Jahangir for many years in different tournaments but he finally got his revenge. Around this time, another Pakistani star Jansher Khan had descended on the world squash scene. Jansher challenged his compatriot and scored his first win over Jahangir in the semifinal of 1987 Hong Kong Open. Afterwards, Jansher proved his superiority by beating Jahangir in their next eight consecutive encounters, including the 1987 World Open title at Birmingham.
But Jahangir was not finished. He ended Jansher’s winning streak in March 1988, and went on to win 11 of their next 15 encounters. They also met in Amsterdam’s 1988 World Open final, where Jahangir defeated Jansher. Those days, world squash was dominated by these two Pakistani players and others found it too difficult to counter either of them. Jansher and Jahangir met for a total of 37 times with Jansher winning 19 times and Jahangir 18. After 1988, Jahangir never won the World Open again but he continued his stranglehold over the British Open and won the title 10 times.
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