An invention of the English who played it—or something very like it—to while away tedious hours in the courtyards of 18th century debtors' prisons, the game of squash racquets is now popular pretty much all over the world. But by an odd quirk of fate, or perhaps by Allah's specific design, all of its greatest champions come not only from one nation but from one single family in that nation—the Khans of Pakistan. The Khans are to squash what the Bachs were to music, what the Zacchinis are to being shot from cannons.
Hashim, the mightiest of the Khans, has won the world's squash racquets championship seven separate times and has held titles in 40 different countries. The current British and American squash racquets open champion is Hashim's younger brother, Azam. The Australian open champion is Azam and Hashim's nephew, 23-year-old Mohibullah. The Canadian open champion is Mohibullah's cousin Roshan, 34, who lost the U.S. open championship to his cousin Azam in the finals in January.
These are not all of the squash-playing Khans. There is also Sharrif Khan, the 16-year-old son of Hashim and the pupil of Azam. He is the British junior champion. Safirullah Khan, Mohibullah's father, is the professional at the Sind Club in Karachi and the holder of several professional titles. Gulamed, the 13-year-old brother of Mohibullah, is expected one day to be world champion. Samiullah Khan is the professional at Karachi's Municipal Corporation Club. Roshan's brother, Nazrullah, is the pro at the Junior Carlton Club in London. Under the tutelage of Roshan, two more Khans—the sons of Nazrullah—will almost certainly be winning championships before long.
Abdul the ball boy
This fantastic and continuing dominance began a century ago when a young Moslem was allowed by his British employers to serve as ball boy at a racquets court in an Empire army post in what was then India. That young man, Abdul Majeed Khan, born about the time of the battle of Bull Run, served for 65 years as the racquets pro (racquets is an older form of the game than squash racquets and is played on a slightly larger court) at the Peshawar Club in Peshawar. At the age of 76 he spotted the local British champion six points and beat him 9-6. (Unless there is a tie, the English game ends at nine points, the American game at 15.) Twenty years later, in 1950, his young cousin Hashim, then 36, journeyed from Pakistan to England to beat the best squash players in the world and make the name Khan an international hallmark of excellence at the game.
At that time Hashim Khan was employed as coach of the infant Pakistan air force. "They think Hashim is too old for the game," says Hashim, puffing out his barrel of a chest, "but Hashim fool them." Accustomed to roofless courts and not too familiar with the British style of play, Hashim was far from polished in his first overseas tournament. But he had one unbeatable advantage: nobody could get a ball past him. Incredibly fast and endlessly patient, he was the best retriever the British or anyone else had ever seen. During one rally in the finals against the fine Egyptian stylist, Mahmoud Abd El Karim, Hashim returned his opponent's smashes and tricky placements 37 times by actual count until the frenzied Egyptian could stand it no longer and slammed the ball into the telltale through sheer frustration. The acrobatic little Pakistani then proceeded to finish off the Egyptian champion 9-5, 9-0, 9-0.
From England, Hashim went on to win the Scottish and Australian titles, spreading the fame of Pakistan and the Khans wherever he went. On his return home he persuaded his younger brother, Azam, a local tennis champion, to stop this outdoor nonsense and concentrate on the family game. Azam was reluctant but submitted to Hashim's intense coaching for three months. Though he played the game more like tennis than true squash, with wide, sweeping strokes, Azam was soon good enough for international play. The following year, the finals of the British open squash racquets tournament were played between the two brothers with Hashim winning as he pleased—a pattern that was to continue in most open and professional tournaments for the next 10 years.
On to the U.S.
In 1954 Hashim was invited to the U.S., to play in the first American open tournament. Despite the fact that the American form of the game was completely unfamiliar to him (it is played on a smaller court and requires much faster reflexes than the English game but not as much fast running) Hashim learned with every shot he made and reached the finals, beating Champion G. Diehl Mateer Jr. on the way. Overconfident, Hashim then lost to the Boston amateur, Henri Salaun. Two years later Hashim made up for this unpardonable lapse. He arranged for his brother Azam to enter the tournament in 1956. Azam beat the Americans, then Hashim beat Azam.
Bothered by knee trouble and more or less retired from championship play now, Hashim keeps in shape today by serving as the squash pro at the Uptown Athletic Club in Detroit. He upholds the family honor by spotting local champions 12 points a game and beating them handily. Occasionally he takes them on two or three at a time as he did once in Australia when he beat the top-ranking Aussie pro (Tennis Player Frank Sedgman) and two amateurs.