Jansher: “Door Is Open To Hamza”

By RJ Mitchell

It was the moment that seemed to herald the dawning of a new era for Pakistani squash and one that ended 37 years of disappointment – yet the crowning of Hamza Khan as World Junior Champion, in Melbourne last July, as the anointed successor to the immortal Jansher Khan, the last Pathan to dominate the juniors, has not provided the all-conquering afterglow his compatriots had hoped for.

While the young Khan’s ascension to the senior ranks initially promised much when he defeated former World No.1 James Willstrop in the second round of the London Open, a straight games defeat by World No.103 Owain Taylor in the quarter-finals and a four-game defeat to Jonah Bryant in the first round of the Northern Joe Cup a week later (particularly interesting in terms of context as Bryant had been the top-seed and favourite to win the World Junior Championship which Khan eventually claimed) saw the initial excitement fade.

With Khan set to return to the senior fray later this year, Jansher Khan has now offered to help his 18-year-old countryman make the grade.

Having won the World Junior Championships in 1986 as a 16-year-old before then claiming the men’s World Championship title 12-months later when he dispatched uncompromising Aussie Chris Dittmar in four games in Birmingham, no one is better qualified than Jansher to help the young Khan learn the lessons needed to reach the top.

“What Hamza must do is find the right blend of training and playing tournaments and benefitting from the competitive matches. Hamza must also be disciplined – this is very important,” said Jansher, the game’s greatest ever World Champion with eight global titles to his name.

“If he can do that then he has a chance, it will not be easy but I wish him very good luck with it.

“He is representing Pakistan and he has made our country proud again by winning the World Junior Championships but now he is starting at the bottom of the mountain again on a new journey to try and reach the top of the men’s game.

“As I know from my own experiences that will not be easy and his desire and determination will be important as there can be no shortcuts.”

Installed as head coach at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sports Directorate at the end of 2020, Jansher, despite bravely battling Parkinson’s Disease, continues to coach the best Pakistani talent at the complex named after him at every level from under-13 to under-19.

Indeed Jansher has already shared the boards with the young Pakistani squash tyro and has continued to monitor his namesake’s progress.

After a considered pause at the other end of the line he continued: “Hamza won the World Junior Championships but then in the seniors it has not been what he or we in Pakistan would have hoped for.

“So, between the juniors and seniors there is a lot of difference. I think the big difference is that in the juniors not every game is tough but when you are World Junior Champion and you move up to the senior professional game it is a big step up and you are a target.

“I think this has made it difficult for Hamza to make the top level. He is 18 years-old now and he is 206 in the world and after he won the World Juniors he played in a few senior professional tournaments in England and he lost.

“So far Hamza is struggling to make that adjustment. It will not be easy for him to make the top-10 or top-20.”

1988 World Open final. Amsterdam, Jahangir Khan v Jansher Khan

Looking back at the year he achieved arguably the most spectacular transition from the junior to the senior game ever made, Jansher enjoys a wry laugh as he shares the unique driver that spawned his unparalleled success.

The Pakistani squash great said: “In my story I won the World Junior Championship in Australia and then I became very competitive and won against the seniors very quickly.

“But the main thing for me was that I came after Jahangir and I chased him all the way and that drove me on and on.

“For Jahangir and I, we played each other and we came from the juniors and we also had others who drove us on.

“It is still early to make any predictions about Hamza but I know this will be a challenge for him. Hamza does not have that rivalry and he now needs to dig deep in himself to drive himself onwards.”

When it comes to what it will take for the young Khan to become king of the senior game Jansher, whose 97-month reign as World No.1 between 1988 and 1998 makes him the longest ever male rankings ruler, said: “I haven’t coached Hamza but I have been on court with him and the biggest thing for Hamza is that he needs to be playing seven or eight hours a day.

“Working on his squash all day, committing to it, putting it first above all else if he wants to make the absolute top level.

“Nowadays there is so much competition so for him this will be a challenge.”

Hamza Khan after his World Junior Championship triumph

When it comes to just why the legacy left by Jahangir and himself has not been built on, Jansher shoots from the lip in his appraisal of the follow-on.

He said: “The problem is not that we don’t have talented players in Pakistan but the question is are they prepared to do the work and the necessary amount of it to make the grade?

“Squash is a very tough, physically demanding sport and you must dedicate yourself to it. You cannot be sitting looking at your mobiles until 2am in the morning!

“These youngsters they need to be ready to be up at 5am in the morning to be ready for training runs and they can’t do that if they are on their mobiles all night.

“We have many talented and gifted players, although it is not correct for me just now to name any, but again the question is are they prepared to do the hard work?”

Yet Jansher’s passion to mould a new Pakistani champion continues to smoulder: “I train them at the Jansher Khan Complex and I have three or four boys in 13s, 15s, 17s and 19s and I work with them five days a week and it is my hope that out of these groups we will make champions.

“That is my dream!”

Yet Jansher was keen to end by making an offer he hopes Hamza will not refuse: “If Hamza wanted to get in touch with me I would love to help him. All I have ever wanted was to help create our next great champion.

“I am sure that if Hamza called me we could find a way for me to help him and I would do all I could to help make him that champion and make Pakistan proud again.”