From collecting torn squash balls to satisfying his hunger for the sport to actually making it to five British Open finals and four World Open title deciders, the story of Qamar Zaman is one of struggles behind an underprivileged individual chasing his aims.
Qamar’s father, Mohammad Ayub Zaman, was a coach at the Quetta Squash Complex, an ideal setting for the youngster to get involved with the sport.
As a child, Qamar would hold his father’s hand and watch the officers play, jumping in when they swapped the ripped balls with new ones.
“I’d stand there for hours to collect those torn balls and would tape those before practising with them,” recalled Qamar.
“Sometimes I used to bring them home and my mother would stitch them.”
The hobby, with time, grew into passion and he started spending more time at the courts, getting adequate bashing from his father in return.
“My father had to drag me away from the court because, by then, I had started practising intensely for four to five hours. The power I used in those practice sessions resulted in more torn balls.
“One day, my father scolded me for doing that, saying that he had to look after a family of 13 on a Rs150 salary. He can’t afford to give me Rs2 per day for new squash balls.”
This forced Qamar to tone things down slightly, but he continued with the same ambition, tucking his shalwar into his socks to give it the look of track bottoms.
Moving on from training
Qamar made his professional debut in 1968, travelling to Peshawar for his maiden under-16 event.
Although he lost in the second round, he managed to win plenty of laurels as onlookers tipped him to be a future star. The prophecy gathered strength as six months later, Qamar lifted the National Junior Championship’s U18 trophy.
“I never thought squash will take over my life as it was never my dream to become a squash player. But I guess it was written somewhere in my stars.”
The move abroad
Qamar then decided to try his luck abroad, registering for the 1973 British Amateur event for which he bought a new racket (Rs9) and shoes (Rs8).
He lost in the semi-finals but his investment, and the on-court show, earned him not only respect but also several sponsorship deals and dozens of rackets. The following year Qamar reached the semi-finals of the British Open before managing to win the Australian Amateur event.
Second time lucky
He came back to England stronger, winning the British Open in 1975, stunning defending champion Geoff Hunt in the quarter-finals.
“When I returned home, there was a massive crowd gathered to welcome me at the airport but I couldn’t see my father. I was then told that he was standing right at the back.
“I was furious after hearing that and lashed out at the officials and was told he wanted to stand at the back himself.
“Later, as I hugged him, I asked him why he wasn’t in front. With tears in his eyes, he said he wanted to savour each and every moment of me being treated as a hero and had he stood at the front, he would’ve missed all that.”
Qamar was unable to replicate his efforts ever again, losing in the British Open final in 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1984.
He also lost in the final of the World Open four times – 1976, 1979, 1980 and 1984 – but ensured Pakistan’s fading supremacy since the days of Roshan Khan and Hashim Khan was reignited.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2012.