1. How long have you been playing squash, and where?
I have been playing squash since I was very young, around my early teenage years. Originally, I was playing in my hometown of Lahore, at the Pakistan Squash Racquets Association (PSRA) courts behind the Governor House. I had the convenience of having my father coach and train me at the squash club. I participated in local tournaments until I could make my name as a prominent Junior player, having won the Irish Open, German Open, and British Junior Open.
I was offered to play in various tours, most notably as part of the Pakistan Team in Australia in 1973, where I had the privilege of playing alongside Khalid Mir, the current squash head of the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, OR (The 2nd biggest club of its kind in the US). I did considerably well in that particular tour, having won 4 out of 5 of my matches.
Later on, I went to England to make a living through squash. My expenses were covered through my playing in a myriad of tournaments per year, around 20-25 to be exact.
How come you played in so many tournaments in a year in England?
The reason I played in so many tournaments was because there wasn’t much money in squash in those days. I had to pay for rent and living expenses through playing these small tournaments.
When did you go pro?
I became a professional player in 1973. It all started when I participated in a Benson and Hedges series tour around Europe, for which Benson & Hedges themselves sponsored me. British Caledonian Airlines, a now defunct company, decided to sponsor me as well. But it was Pakistan Interational Airlines whose sponsorship let me travel for free to any of the tournaments I decided to play in around the world.
I remember how I got that sponsorship. Noor Khan, a very senior employee of PIA, called me to the Ambassador Hotel after being impressed by my squash playing skills and the exposure I had given Pakistan in squash on the world stage. After having a chat with him, he offered me a contract. I had no choice but to say yes. How could anyone turn down such a lucrative contract like that, at a time when the British Open Champion received only 500 pounds for prize money!?
2. What made you start playing squash?
My passion for squash started from me wanting to adopt it as a reputable profession. Myself, like Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan, and Qamar Zaman, some of the prominent squash greats of this country, came from underprivileged backgrounds, and since there wasn’t much money behind squash in those days, none of us saw it as a hugely financial opportunity. When I initially started playing squash, a lot of problems persisted in getting ample racquets and squash balls across to players. Now however, as the times have changed, squash facilities have become more accessible and better, with various squash facilities being opened across the nation with hardwood floors and glass backdoors.
3. How long have you coached players for?
I have been coaching players for around 18 years. My first post was in a prominent squash club in Kuwait, where the royal family sponsored my stay. However, when the war in Kuwait broke out, I was left in a tough situation and had to come back to Pakistan, where I have been the Pakistan team coach alongside Punjab coach ever since, on an on-off basis. Currently, I am the Punjab Squash Team coach.
4. Has anyone that you have coached turned out to be a prominent professional player?
I’d consider Yasir Butt, Sohail Qaiser, and Basit Ashfaq to be my greatest prodigies. Yasir Butt has been a multiple national champion, having won many Pakistan Opens. Sohail Qaiser ended up winning the Under-23 Junior World Squash Championship.Basit Ashfaq is a successful team squash player at the collegiate level, having played for Trinity College, based in Connecticut in the US, when they achieved a streak of ten straight championships in the NCAA, playing alongside prominent schools like Harvard.
5. Compare the level of squash from your playing days to nowadays.
I’d say players in my time were more technical, whereas players these days have employed a more physical game. In our days, there were more lets, and the point system during rallies was different (each player could only score points on their serve).
In fact, I was considered a pioneer in my time for focusing more on the technical side of the game, by playing drop shots and side-wall boasts. I found those tactics to be very effective to my specific game, of tiring my opponent out to get points off of him.
These days, however, Pakistani players are lacking that physical component to their game. They focus more on technical training rather than fitness training. However, we are slowly edging towards a more Egyptian model of training, and it has gradually been doing wonders for us in our results. Pakistan may be doing considerably better in team squash these days, but it won’t be too long before we get back to the glory days of boasting individual talent as well.
6. What can be done to improve the level of squash in the country?
Exposure to the game through an international circuit, which in turn can be highlighted through the media in this country. We hope that the upcoming Asian Masters tournament, which will take place from the 3rd till the 6th of September, to be held in the Punjab Squash Association Complex , will bring back the once elevated level of squash in this country. World-class players such as Jonathan Power, Ramy Ashour, David Palmer, Geoff Hunt, Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan, and Qamar Zaman will be participating in this 4 day event. We hope a lot of spectators will be in attendance for this spectacular event, so that the Punjab Squash Association can look back on a great moment in Pakistani squash history in the future.