PESHAWAR: Nawa Kalay is a village with star power. Located in the suburbs of Peshawar, the area has produced eight world-class squash champions who have won nearly 37 international tournaments.
The village of 18,000 dominated the world of squash for years, but no international player surfaced from Nawa Kalay in the last 14 years. It was in May 2013 when that spell was finally broken when Aamir Atlas Khan won the Asian Squash Championship, beating Kuwait’s Abdullah al Mezayan in three sets in the final.
Despite the international acclaim of its residents, there are no public squash courts in the area and young players practice in the Pakistan Air Force squash courts in Peshawar.
But despite the odds, Hashim Khan, considered one of the greatest athletes of his time, made it to the top. Hashim’s father, Abdullah Khan, was a head steward at a club in Peshawar where British Army officers stationed in the area played squash. Hashim was an unpaid ball boy back then where he watched officers play and learnt the game – well enough to win seven British Open tournaments from 1951 to 1958. Among other wins, Hashim also secured three US Open titles.
Hashim’s younger brother, Azam Khan, won the British Open four times from 1959 to 1962 and was the runner-up thrice. He also won the US Open in 1962.
Legendary Roshan Khan, father of Jahangir Khan, was another leading squash player from the Khan clan and won the British Open title in 1957.
Another legend, Jansher Khan, also known as ‘King Khan’, ruled the world of squash between 1974 and 1984 where he ranked World Number 1. Jansher himself won the World Open eight times and the British Open six times.
Jansher was taught by his brother Mohibullah Khan, commonly known as ‘Mo Khan’. Although Mohibullah did not reach Jansher’s fame and prowess, he was World Number 2 from 1975to 1976 and also secured the British Open title.
Another international player, Qamar Zaman, won the Pakistan Junior Squash Championship in 1968 and grabbed the British Open in 1975. He was runner-up to Geoff Hunt in 1978, 1979, and 1980 and to Jahangir in 1984.
But the real surprise for Nawa Kalay and the rest of the world came in 1982 when Jahangir won the International Squash Players Association championship without losing a single point.
Rehmat Khan, who was the World Number 12 and coach to great players such as Jahangir, Jonathan Power, Aamir Atlas and Siddharth Suchde, said when someone from the village won a game, residents would go to welcome the player at the airport and carry him till his house on their shoulders. Such an occasion has been missing for many years.
“The lack of vision and investment in the game has shifted the rule of Peshawar’s players on the world of squash to other countries. Until 2013, we had not produced a single international player in more than a decade,” Rehmat lamented.
“We were playing with torn balls, had no proper uniform, no courts, but despite all these problems we were committed and practiced for six hours each day to bring international recognition for the country and for the Pakhtuns,” said Zaman, who is also the Vice President of the Pakistan Squash Federation. “We still have talented players but people do not give the game the time it needs.”
But Jahangir says the fall of the game in Pakistan can be attributed to the Pakistan Squash Federation.
“It is very disappointing that Nawa Kalay ruled the world of squash for over 30 years and now we have lost that achievement. There is lack of proper guidance and commitment from the squash federation,” said the former World Number 1.
“Players these days concentrate on winning the Karachi Open, National Tournament and Asian Championship, which were not priorities for us at all. We were focused on the British Open and other international tournaments,” Jahangir said, adding that there was still a lot of politics in the selection of players. “Some officials in the federation do not have any background of squash.”
Qamar says there are around 490 players in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, both men and women. Of these, only 19 players have contacts with different government departments who they represent in tournaments.
The Pakistan Squash Federation needs to send people abroad for international tournaments and give them financial support, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2013.
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