Squash, or squash racquets as it was known in its early days, was invented at Harrow School, England, around 1830. The first purpose-built squash courts were built at Harrow in the 1860s.
The game remained the preserve of schools and universities until the early part of the 20th century. The United States became the first nation to form a dedicated association and codify its game in 1907.
In the same year, the (British) Tennis & Rackets Association formed a squash rackets sub-committee and, in 1928, the (British) Squash Rackets Association took over.
Only when commercial operators began building public courts from the 1950s did the game start to boom in popularity, with participation peaking around the early 1980s.
Until then, the game was divided between amateur players and professional players, who were often coaches employed by exclusive clubs.
Today, squash is played in 153 countries, of which 124 are members of the World Squash Federation, with 50,000 courts now worldwide. Squash made its debut at the 13th Asian Games in Bangkok 1998.
It is also played in the World Games, All Africa Games, Pan-American Games and Commonwealth Games.
Squash in Pakistan
The only individual sport in which Pakistan has made her presence felt at the international level is squash. Ever since her debut in 1950, Pakistan has remained among the top squash playing countries of the world. The man who put Pakistan on the squash map of the world was a stockily-built balding Pathan from Navankilli, a little village near Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province. Hashim Khan, a little known professional on the wrong side of forties, impressed the Pakistan Air force officers so much that they sent him to England at their own expense. Hashim Khan descended on the squash scene in 1950 to baffle the world with his artistry, his wizardry and amazing speed on le squash court. He went on to found a dynasty which dominated the squash world for nearly three decades.
The names of such great maestros as brother Azam Khan, cousin Roshan Khan, son Sharif Khan, nephew Mohibullah, Qamar Zaman, Jahangir Khan (son of Roshan Khan) and Jansher Khan, have adorned the Squash firmament during the last thirty-odd years. This galaxy has kept the squash horizon alight with their achievements over the years. Except for a brief period when Geoff Hunt of Australia reigned supreme, the supremacy has remained with Pakistan.
Along came Jahangir Khan to topple Hunt from his high pedestal in the early eighties. While still in his teens, strode the squash courts of the world like a colossus, trampling all who crossed his path to win every honour which the game had to offer. There is no parallel in the history of the game when a teenager squashed the challenge of the World’s best players in such a summary fashion.
Prior to 1949 British and Egyptian players, Amar Bey, Dear and Mehmud-ul-Karim being the most prominent among them, had dominated the tournament. 1948 saw the entry of M.A. Bari a Pathan from Nawa Killi, Peshawar, who was a squash marker at the C.C.I. Club, Bombay. Bari, on his first entry to the British Open, reached the finals, which he lost in a grueling five-set match to the then reigning champion, Mehmood-ul-Karim from Egypt. Karim had now won three consecutive British Opens, 1947 – 1949.
After the tournament, the High Commissioner for Pakistan in London, Mr. Habib Rehmatullah, asked Bari if he could move back to his native Peshawar in order to play for Pakistan. Bari declined regretting his inability to comply with this request, suggesting instead that Pakistan approach his cousin Hashim Khan whom Bari had never been able to defeat in any official or unofficial tournament. The High Commissioner wrote to the Pakistan Government and thus was discovered Hashim Khan, already 35 years of age, living in oblivion in Peshawar. When contacted, Hashim expressed confidence in his ability to defeat Bari and it was agreed that Hashim should be given a chance to prove himself.
Ill-equipped in sports kit and clothing Hashim was put on a Pakistan Air Force
freighter in January, 1950, to brave the prowess of the established world
champions and the harshness of the Cold English weather alike. Hashim reached
the finals of his first British Open, vindicating his self-belief, where he met
Karim, who had won yet another five set semi-final with Bari.
The final was played in a tense atmosphere and Karim led 5-3 in the first game.
The next point saw a breathtaking 124-point rally, which ended with Karim,
attempting a desperately difficult winner from a tight position, hitting the
tin. A change in service hand at 3-5 found Karim so exhausted and dispirited
that he conceded the next 24 points to Hashim, who won the world title 9-5, 9-0,
9-0 in his first ever appearance in an international tournament, and that too at
36 years of age!
A Pakistani star had been born. Hashim Khan, Pakistan’s first World Squash
Champion had begun his international career
at an age when most players have
retired from competitive sport.
Inspired by Hashim’s feats and the relative riches and prominence that success
in international squash brought in it’s wake, others from his Pathan clan joined
forces and went after the British open title. Within a couple of years, the
tournament was being dominated by the Pathans of Nawa Killi, and so pronounced
was their presence that in the years 1952-54 almost all the semi-finals berths
were taken up by Pakistanis. Hashim, Safirullah, Nasrullah, and Jamal Din were
the most successful of them.
Conscious of his advancing years Hashim decided to groom his younger brother,
Azam Khan, to take up the sport. Already 28, Azam had not previously played
squash. However, two years of serious coaching and encouragement from Hashim
made Azam good enough to take on the world. Azam was later joined by Roshan
Khan. Between them, Hashim (7), Azam (4) and Roshan (1) won all the British open
titles during the 1950-1960 period.
Abu Talib of Egypt in 1961 and then M.A. Oddy, a Scot, effectively ended the
domination of the Khan dynasty. Although Muhibullah Khan Sr., nephew to both
Hashim and Azam, recaptured the coveted trophy for Pakistan in 1963, the
glorious run of success enjoyed by the Pathans had come to an end. However the
world had by no means heard the last of them.
During the 1960s Hashim had settled in the USA while Azam had opted for London.
Muhibullah senior followed his uncle Hashim to the USA and then went on to
Canada. With these three stalwarts out of the game, the Pakistan squash scene
presented a bleak picture.
Due largely to the efforts of the Pakistan Squash Rackets Federation, promotion
of the sport at all levels had been underway in the 1060s. By 1972 the nucleus
of Pakistan’s future international stars had been developed. By this time Aftab
Javed, M. Yasin,
Gogi Alauddin, Sajjad Munir, Hidayat Jehan, Torsam Khan, Farooq
Rahim, M. Saleem, A. Rehman, M. Kalim, Gul Ahmed Shah, and a few others formed
an array of talent that promised to illumine the squash world. About the same
time Qamar Zaman, followed by Mohibullah Jr., Sajjad Vine and Maqsood Ahmed made
their mark as the junior string of Pakistan’s international players. Pakistan
squash had thus established itself as a force once again to be reckoned with.
The period 1973-1982 saw Gogi Alauddin , Qamar Zaman, Mohibullah Jr., Hidayat
Jehan, Sajjad Muneer , Torsam Khan and Maqsood Ahmed ranked amongst the top ten
in the world. Although Sajjad Muneer chose to pursue his civil engineering
career and left international squash in 1976, and Torsam Khan was lost through
his tragic death on a squash court the next year, it was usual during that time
to find six Pakistanis amongst the last and three amongst the four
semi-finalists in most international tournaments. This was the period of real
domination by Pakistan in world squash with a galaxy of stars the like of which
no other country can ever hope to possess operating together as a team. Only
Jonah Barrington of Ireland between the years 1976 to 1974, and Geoff Hunt of
Australia, from 1967 to 1981, stood between the Pakistanis and the world number
It is difficult to describe or quantify the greatness of Hunt who
single-handedly resisted and kept at bay the combined onslaught of six talented
Pakistanis for nearly ten years. During this period he denied at least six
British Opens and four World Champions to Pakistan’s formidable quarter of Gogi,
Qamar, Muhibullah Sr. and Hiddayat Jehan. Pakistan’s domination in squash was
best exhibited in the Pakistan Open, 1977, when all the recognized world’s top
squash players participated. Pakistan fielded two squash teams in the senior
event: the A team (Gogi Alauddin, Qamar Zaman and Mohibullah) and Pakistan B (Hiddy
Jehan, Sajjad Muneer and Maqsood Ahmed) and these two teams ended up playing
each other in the final! The individual event found six Pakistanis in the
quarterfinals, three in the semi-finals with the final being won by Gogi
Alauddin where he met and beat the formidable Geoff Hunt of Australia.
As time and age were catching up with the existing stars, two new stars from
Pakistan made their appearance on the world squash stage: Jehangir Khan and
Suhail Qaiser. Suhail Qaiser’s career was brilliant but short, burning out like
a meteor, for unaccountable reasons. Jehangir khan, on the other hand, was to go
on to become the most successful and long lasting of Pakistan’s long line of
dazzling squash stars.
The years 1982-1986 are known as the Jehangir Khan era. Jehangir Khan’s records
and achievements in squash are unsurpassed and are likely to stay that way for
many years to come. He first reached the final of the British Open in 1981 when
he was only 17 years old. He won his first British Open in 1982 from Hunt, the
world #1 since 1970.
Jehangir’s feat in having won ten consecutive British Opens and going undefeated
for a continuous period of sixty-six months are records that are certain to
remain intact in the expanding world of squash for a long time. He has
undoubtedly been the most celebrated and the best exponent of the game during
the decade, remaining at the top till the advent in 1987 of Jansher Khan, a
fellow Pakistani. Jehangir’s achievements have brought him the title of the
‘king of squash’ and pundits of the game have dubbed him the greatest squash
champion of the contemporary period.
As Pakistan wondered about who would succeed Jehangir, Jansher Khan burst onto
the scene in 1987. His appearance at the age of 17 caused tremors in the squash
world when, in his first year in the international squash, he dethroned top
class players including Jehangir. Jehangir recovered from the earlier shock and,
thereafter, the two kept winning the top world titles alternately for Pakistan.
The physical and mental pressures of modern squash, however, took their toll on
Jehangir whose fitness problems forced him to miss most of the 1992 and 1993
seasons. Jehangir’s absence on account of his health problems provided greater
impetus for Jansher Khan who, since then single-handedly held Pakistan’s flag
Jansher’s achievements since 1987 are already legendary. Jansher was 24 and at
the peak of his form. His effortless court movements and positional play were
unmatched and he attained near perfection in ball control, court technique and
tactical ability. He may not posses the speed of movement of Mohibullah Sr., or
the power stroke play of Hiddy Jehan and Sajjad, or the soft lobs and floating
cross drops of Gogi, but he achieved the perfect balance between all these
qualities to become a supreme exponent of the game. Even with the ever
increasing challenges from developing players of other nations, he was able to
remain at the top for the next four or five years.