SQUASH: THE UNHERALDED HERO

Published April 26, 2020
With great rival and friend Jonah Barrington, who twice defeated him in the final of the British Open
With great rival and friend Jonah Barrington, who twice defeated him in the final of the British Open

Pakistan’s record in the British Open Squash Championships, the most prestigious squash competition in the world, remains unrivaled. Seven of the country’s players have brought it 30 titles. But then there are also the five who reached the final but failed to take the title. Aftab Jawaid happens to be one of them.

Jawaid is the only Pakistani to have played the British Open final thrice without winning it. Still, he kept the hopes of the nation alive during Pakistan`s longest barren period in the second half of the 20th century. From 1951-63, the title stayed with the country. Then, after a lapse of 12 years, Pakistan regained the title in 1975. During a 10-year (1964-74) title-less phase, Jawaid, Mohammad Yasin and Gogi Alauddin made it to the finals, though they didn’t lift the trophy and Jawaid, among them, remained unlucky thrice.

However, he was the first Pakistani to win the British Amateur title (later discontinued) in 1964. And retaining it for the next two years, Jawaid became only the third player to complete a hat-trick of wins in the long history of the British Amateur Championships, which first began in 1922.

Settled in Manchester, England, for almost 20 years now, Jawaid belongs to the same squash-fertile village of Nawan Kalli near Peshawar from where all the other world squash champions of Pakistan also hail.

“My father, Zain Khan, was a professional squash and tennis coach in Srinagar, Kashmir,” Jawaid tells me. “My father was the winner of the first ever All-India Squash Championships, held sometime in the early 1940s. The family had already moved to Quetta when Pakistan came into being in 1947. I was 10 at the time,” says Jawaid.

Pakistan has a rich history of producing top-notch squash players. Not all of them went on to win coveted titles; some of them proved to be great trailblazers for the future champions of the game. Eos sits down with one such forgotten hero, Aftab Jawaid

“In Quetta, my father worked as a squash coach at the Army Staff College. I played squash and tennis there with the officers, including Pakistan’s future army chiefs Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and a young Ziaul Haq.

“After my father retired from the Staff College, I started playing at the Quetta Club where my brother, Ayub, father of the future squash World No 1 player Qamar Zaman, was a tennis coach. When Ayub used to leave for home in the evenings on his bicycle, I used to run alongside him for miles,” he remembers fondly.

COMPETITIONS

“There were not many squash competitions happening in Quetta at that time. But in 1959, there were trials held to select two amateurs for Pakistan. I went to Karachi but lost in the final trial match. Still, surprisingly, Major Rahimuddin (later general) selected me as the second player.

“But then I did something which hurt me rather badly. On a well-wisher’s suggestion, I wrote a letter for Dawn’s ‘Letters to the Editor’ column about my always beating Rahimuddin during practice in Quetta. I argued I deserved a chance to play against him and that whosoever wins should be a part of the Pakistan squash team. That letter made me the Pakistan Squash Federation’s [PSF] ‘Enemy Number One.’ I was not invited to take part in a national event for a while after that,” he says.

When Jawaid finally participated, he performed very well in his very first appearance. “I surprised even myself by winning the 1961 nationals in Lahore. I went on to win the title over the next two years also. Meanwhile, my family had shifted to Karachi. My father had got a job as a squash coach in Malir Cantonment. Here, too, I assisted my father. Then in 1962, I joined the Pakistan International Airlines [PIA],” he says.

Aftab Jawaid holding one of his three British Amateur trophies
Aftab Jawaid holding one of his three British Amateur trophies

GOING INTERNATIONAL

The British Open in 1963 was not only Jawaid’s maiden international appearance, it was also the first time for him to have travelled outside Pakistan. “Unseeded, I had to go through the qualifiers. In the first match, I faced fierce competition against an English player. I came back from 1-2 down to win the final game 10-8. And after easy sailing in the next round, I was in the main draw. After a straight games win, I came across the World No 4, Zaghloul of Egypt, in the quarter-finals. An easy 9-1 win in the first game boosted my confidence. Zaghloul fought back. Eventually, I emerged the victor after five games.

“Here I was in the semi-finals of the biggest squash event in my first appearance. The top-seeded Mohibullah Senior was waiting for me. A hungry Mohib, waiting for his first title — having been a losing finalist for the last two years — dispatched his compatriot, me, in straight games,” he says.

Going back to Pakistan, Jawaid then requested the PSF to send him to the British Amateur Championships. Then onwards, he was almost a regular competitor over the next decade at the British Open and British Amateur Championships, the two biggest events of the time.

“I debuted in the British Amateur Championships in 1963 and reached the semi-finals there, too. The following year, I became the first Pakistani to win the title. Then I completed the hat-trick. My other final appearance there was in 1970, when I lost to the legendary Geoff Hunt,” he says.

SO NEAR, YET SO FAR

“In 1964, I again reached the semi-finals of the British Open but I lost again, this time to the eventual winner, Abou Taleb of Egypt,” recalls Jawaid. “My only consolation was winning the third place match against Mohibullah, my vanquisher in the previous edition.”

The British Open of 1964 also saw the end of the remarkable 13-year reign of Pakistan. Mohibullah Sr and Roshan Khan had faded out, and Jawaid came to be regarded as Pakistan’s hope at the British Open.

Perhaps the added burden proved too much for him. “In 1965, I was on the verge of making it to my first final. But then, leading two games to one in the semi-final, I lost!

“The next couple of years, I did play the final but lost, to Taleb in 1966 and Jonah Barrington of Ireland in 1967. In my third and last appearance at the British Open final in 1971, I lost to Barrington in straight games.

“I admit that I lacked the mental strength and felt very nervous, especially in the vital matches. Even my wife used to remark, ‘Aftab, I saw your legs shaking’.

“And then after quarter-final defeats in the next two British Opens, I quit international squash in 1973,” he says.

Still, he left with some satisfaction. The last match that he won at the British Open was the third round tie of 1973. He defeated his nephew Qamar Zaman, who was making his first appearance at the British Open that year, in five games. Two years later, Qamar regained the title for Pakistan which Jawaid had failed to do.

“It was I who made Qamar switch to squash from tennis. As I have mentioned already, his father, my brother Ayub, was a professional tennis coach at the Quetta Club. Qamar, too, picked up the tennis racket. He was making his mark in the sport, too, as in 1967 he reached the final of an all-Pakistan tennis tournament. But then I said to his father that the way he played tennis, he had all the chances to succeed in squash. I especially admired his ability to play drop shots from the back of the court. I also presented Qamar with his first squash racket and balls. The rest, as they say, is history,” he says.

COACHING

Jawaid has coached squash in many countries. “After leaving my full-time job with PIA, I moved to England and coached for several years in Manchester and later in Leeds. One of my pupils was the future British Open women’s champion Lisa Opie. I also spent several years with a German club before returning to Karachi where I had the lease of the DHA Squash Complex for 10 years. I also had a seven-month stint as Pakistan`s national coach, during which I trained eight boys in Peshawar and Abbottabad. Among them, Mansoor Zaman and Shahid Zaman later reached world rankings of 11 and 14, respectively. I believe the duo could have been serious contenders for the British and World Open Championships had they been given proper training later,” he says.

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 26th, 2020

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