Squash Great Hashim Khan Dies in the US

Aurora: Hashim Khan, one of the greatest squash players of all time, died of congestive heart failure Monday night. He was believed to be 100-year-old. His youngest son, Mo, said in a phone interview that Khan died in his home with family by his side.

Mo Khan said of his father's death: “The world just lost the greatest player of all time “.

Khan was the patriarch of Pakistan's squash supremacy, winning seven British Open titles.

At 37, Khan went to the British Open, the unofficial world championship. He had beaten the best player in the world, four-time defending champion Mahmoud El Karim of Egypt, 9-5, 9-0, 9-0, for his first title. His last was at 44.

About then, he had taught his brother, Azam, to play squash, and he won four titles. Hashim Khan’s cousin, Roshan Khan, and nephew, Mohibullah Khan, each captured one. Add Khan’s cousin’s son, Jahangir Khan, who won 10 straight titles through the 1980s, and the “Khan Dynasty” accounted for 23 British Open titles.

Khan had brought his family to the US in the early 1960s after being offered a lucrative deal to teach squash at the Uptown Athletic Club in Detroit. He had later taken a pro position at the Denver Athletic Club in the early ‘70s, with membership instantly soaring.

More than winning, Khan was known for sportsmanship — always allowing an opponent to leave the court first. He was all about respect.

Khan lost his daughter in 2007 and then his wife of 65 years, both to diabetes.

In an article 'The Greatest Khan' Taimur Sikander writes: “What he did back then, it’s impossible for that to happen now. An unknown showing up at the biggest tournament and winning at an age when most players retire? It’s incredible. Can you imagine how good he would have been in his prime?” James Zug, author of “Squash: A History of the Game” marveled in an interview. He was talking about Hashim Khan, undoubtedly, the greatest player the world of squash will ever see.

Khan, who got his first taste of the game as a voluntary ball boy at the British Officer’s club in Peshawar, had only himself as an opponent in Hashim vs Hashim matches until his teens when his father, who worked as the chief steward at the club died in a car accident. From that point onward, Khan dropped out of school and devoted himself completely to the squash club, first as a ball boy and then a coach, making enough money to support the family.

A match with a professional player from Bombay would then change the course of squash history. The player, who had come to club looking for a game, mocked the challenger, who now in his 30s gave the pro a 5-point cushion. At the end of the match, Khan had brushed aside the pro 9-7, becoming a local celebrity and being invited to the All-of-India tournament in Bombay in 1944. He won three consecutive titles in Bombay before partition in 1947 meant he was ineligible to participate in the event as Khan moved to the newly-created state of Pakistan. But the wonders did not stop there.

Pakistan, looking for an identity and national heroes after partition, pinned its hope on Khan, who now at the age of 37 was to represent the country at the British Open. Like a wily wizard, the 5ft 5in, seemingly out of shape man, stunned the squash world by beating Mahmoud El Karim of Egypt 9-5, 9-0, 9-0. He captured six more British Open crowns, the last one coming when Khan was 44.

In between, Khan, who settled in United States in the 1960s after being offered a well-paid coaching job at the Uptown Athletic Club in Detroit, won three Canadian Open and US Open titles as well, the last one coming when the squash king was in his late 40s. The city of Denver in Colorado, which was to become Khan’s next destination, also experienced the Pakistani player’s magic, so much so that the then mayor of the city John Hickenlooper made July 1 ‘Hashim Khan Day’.

Hashim was undoubtedly the greatest of Khans to have ruled the squash world and, few will disagree, is the game’s grand master as well.

Herbert Warren Wind, who 'transformed sports writing into literature', put it aptly: “The more I think about it the more convinced I am that the greatest athlete for his age the world has ever seen may well be Hashim Khan.”


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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