The first round elimination of Pakistan’s top Squash player Aamir Atlas Khan in the recently concluded US Open is considered a massive humiliation that shows our declining standards with little hope of regaining or reproducing the exceptional past.
Ranked 45 in the world, the qualifier Aamir Atlas was defeated in the first round of a 32-player draw of the championship in Philadelphia which carried a cash prize of $1,75, 000. His fellow countryman Yasir Butt, who is in the US and coaching in a club, was, similarly, defeated in the first round.
The form displayed by the country's leading player is quite worrisome, considering the record, Pakistan has of 29 victories in two different ball games which require much vaunted professional commitment and hard work.
The distinguished Khan dynasty was led by a living legend, Hashim Khan, who is widely considered as the father of modern squash. An immigrant to the US, he established an unprecedented winning record. Like the prestigious British Open in which the great Khan had established a record of 30 victories in the internationally recognised softball game, he subsequently proved his mastery in the American hardball game as well.
The golden squash era of Pakistan began in the mid-1950s along with the US Open. In its inaugural event in 1954, Hashim Khan ended up as the runner-up while his brother succeeded his position the following year.
However, the third edition in 1956 resulted in an all-Pakistan finale with Hashim Khan defeating Azam Khan to become the first softball player to win the hardball title. This historical event, however, went unnoticed as, at that time, we were more concerned about our victories in the prestigious British Open in London as the winner in that tournament was widely regarded as the unofficial world champion.
The late Roshan Khan, the British Open champion and one of the finest stroke players, also showed his mastery in the American hardball game winning the US Open three times (1958, 1960 and 1961), preceded by Hashim Khan’s three victories in 1956, 1957 and 1963, while Azam Khan had one victory in 1962. The (late) Mohibullah Khan had four wins to his credit (1964-66 and ’68) before Hashim Khan’s eldest son Sharif Khan added a new chapter in the American hardball game history with 12 US Open titles in his bag. He was the winner from 1969-74 and from 1976-81.
Over the last couple of decades the softball game has gained considerable ground in the US as hundreds of softball courts have been built and the US Squash Federation’s efforts have taken the game to the grass roots level. A number of foreign players are working as coaches in the clubs and this year the US Open attracted all the top-ranked players.
In 1985, the US Open was turned into a softball event after Jahangir Khan, the record-holder of the 10 successive wins in the British Open, won the 1984 US Open hardball event and won again in 1985 and 1988. He also demonstrated his mastery to take the US Open in 1987. ’90 and ’95.
To conclude we can see that after dominating the sport for almost 40 years Pakistan has failed to make any impact for the past 17. It is a sorry commentary on Pakistan Squash Federation and other organisations who are overseeing the game in this country.