Monday, March 27, 2023

RIP Hashim Khan, the man who led Pakistan’s golden era

Squash legend dies soon after celebrating his 100th birthday


Hashim Khan (right) shakes hands with Mahmoud Karim after winning his first British Open in 1951.
The great Hashim Khan (right) shakes hands with Mahmoud Karim after winning his first British Open in 1951

The great Hashim Khan has passed away, just one month after celebrating what was believed to be his 100th birthday.

The Pakistani legend, who won the British Open seven times, spawned several generations of champions after arriving in London as an unknown entity in the early 1950s.

The man who learned to play squash while working as a ballboy at a British Armed Forces officers’ base in the North-West frontier became the greatest player on the planet.

His phenomenal speed round the court, starting off in a pair of borrowed plimsolls, enabled him to overpower more experienced opponents in a post-war era when the sport was dominated by officers and gentlemen who were used to playing a more languid style in long trousers and cricket jumpers when courts grew cold in the winter.

The young Hashim (no-one is absolutely sure of his exact birthday) enjoyed no such sartorial luxuries when he first arrived in London, and well-meaning supporters clubbed together to buy him some winter clothes and new squash clothing.

He became famous for the squeal of his rubber soles on the wooden floors of the gentlemen’s clubs in the Pall Mall area of London as he quickly imposed his style of play on less-fit opponents.

His greatest legacy was in building a family name that is perhaps unrivalled in any sport in terms of domination and trophies collected.

Brothers and cousins spread the name of Khan throughout the sport and four decades later the mighty Jahangir Khan became the first Pakistani to eclipse Hashim’s impact on the sport with an astonishing career.

He won 10 British Open titles in succession and enjoyed an unbeaten spell lasting more than five and a half years and 555 matches before falling to Ross Norman in the 1986 World Open final. Hashim won the British Open seven times between 1951 and 1958 and is considered as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Hashim Khan was born in Nawakille, a small village near Peshawar, in Pakistan to an ethnic Pashtun family. The year of his birth is usually reported as 1916, though this has been disputed. According to his family members, he turned 100 on 1 July 2014.

Khan’s father, Abdullah Khan, was the Head Steward at a club in Peshawar where British army officers stationed in the area played squash. As a youngster, Khan served as an unpaid ball boy at the club, retrieving balls that were hit out of court by the officers. When the officers had finished playing, Khan and the other ball boys would take over the courts.

In 1942, Khan became a squash coach at a British Air Force officers’ mess. In 1944, he won the first All-of-India squash championship in Bombay, and successfully defended this title for the next two years. When Pakistan became an independent state, he was appointed a squash professional at the Pakistan Air Force, and won the first Pakistani squash championship in 1949.

In 1950, Abdul Bari, a distant relative of Khan’s who had chosen to remain in Bombay after the independence of Pakistan in 1947, and who Hashim had beaten in several tournaments in India before the independence, was sponsored by the Indian Government to play at the British Open where he finished runner-up to the Egyptian player Mahmoud Karim. This spurred Khan to seek backing to compete in the British Open the following year.

In 1951, Khan travelled to the United Kingdom to play in the British Open, and won the title beating Karim in the final 9-5, 9-0, 9-0. He again beat Karim in the final in 1952, triumphing 9-5, 9-7, 9-0.

He won again for the next four consecutive years, beating R.B.R. Wilson of England in the 1953 final; his younger brother Azam Khan in two tight five-set finals in 1954 and 1955; and Roshan Khan in the final of 1956. Hashim Khan was runner-up to Roshan Khan in 1957, and won his seventh and final British Open title in 1958, when he beat Azam in the final.

Hashim Khan also won five British Professional Championship titles, three US Open titles, and three Canadian Open titles.

Khan settled in Denver, Colorado, and has continued to appear in veterans’ matches at the British Open. The Denver Athletic Club continues to hold a Hashim Khan squash tournament in his honor every year.

Khan had a total of 12 children. His eldest son Sharif Khan became a hugely successful and charismatic player on the North American hardball squash circuit in the 1970s, winning a record 12 North American Open titles. Six other sons – Aziz, Gulmast, Liaqat Ali (“Charlie”), Salim (“Sam”), Shaukat, and Mo – also became hardball squash players.

Pictures from Squash Mad archive 

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  1. In 1999 the World Masters Squash Championships were held in Sheffield . I was organising the Player Registration in the Indoor Tennis Courts at the Hallamshire club when I received a call from Reception to tell me that ” a little old man ” was asking for me at Reception. There was Hashim standing there carrying a little , very worn brown case asking where he should go to be registered .I took him down to the Indoor Courts and as we entered the long queues of players waiting to be accredted immediately parted allowing Hashim to go straight to the front . Instantly recognised and respected it remains a very lasting memory of the great man !!

    • Thanks for posting, Hedley. I was at Lambs Club in London a few years ago when Mike Corby got on court with the 85-year-old Hashim. It was a wonderful occasion, with a packed gallery enthralled by the great man’s presence. Mr Corby did most of the feeding, and most of the running, with Hashim still able to strike a ball remarkably cleanly.

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