By RJ Mitchell
Jansher Khan has set himself a five-year target to unearth the next great Pakistani squash champion.
Khan, a record eight-time World Champion, was installed as head coach at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sports Directorate at the end of 2020.
It is a move that has underlined the determination in Pakistan to right a wrong that currently, just 22 years after Jansher retired from professional squash, has just three Pakistani male players in the top 100 of the World Rankings with the highest of those, Tayyab Aslam, placed at No.42.
Assisted by a coaching team of four, which includes former World No.2 Mohibullah Khan, former World No.11 Amjad Khan and a full-time fitness coach, Jansher has already reduced the initial intake of 70 young prospects to three squads of five covering under-13, under-15, and under-17 age groups.
The Pakistani legend is spending up to an hour a day on court with his young charges while also drawing from his own storied career to inspire the youngsters as they aspire to one day take their place on the professional tour and follow in Jansher’s footsteps.
Khan has also revealed that his new role has rejuvenated him after he recovered from double back surgery last year and continues his brave fight against Parkinson’s Disease.
“I am trying my best and it is my greatest wish to help find and create another Pakistani World Champion,” he said.
“In Pakistan, squash ruled for 40-50 years and we made all kinds of records that have never been broken.
“Now it is 22 years since I retired, and nobody has broken my records or followed in my footsteps and it would be great for Pakistan and for me if I can find our next great champion. That is what I am working towards now.
“It will take time to bring the next great Pakistani champion through as we are starting from under-13, 15 and 17 but I have confidence in myself and my coaching team to develop and progress our players.
“I would hope that in around four to five years we will once again have Pakistani players in the top 20 of the rankings. That is our target. But it won’t be easy as we are coming from nothing with just three Pakistani players in the top 100.”
Khan has no doubt that the talent is there as he looks to uncover the next squash gem from this region which was once synonymous with success in the sport.
Khan, whose 97-month reign as World No.1 between 1988 and 1998 make him the longest-reigning men’s No.1 ever, said: “I look after the Academy players at under-13, under-15 and under-17 and I have a group of four other trainers who are under my guidance including Amjad Khan the former World No.11, also former World No.2 Mohibullah Khan and two other trainers.
“Our junior players have a lot of talent and they work very hard, but they are still young and of course it will take time for them to develop and progress and we must be patient in letting that process take place but there is no question the talent is there.
“I spend one hour every day between 3pm and 4pm each day working with the different squads on court myself and for the rest of the day my assistant coaches are at work with the players for around four to five hours.
“But I have to say that these players have God-given talent and there is no problem with that. What there has been a problem with in Pakistan squash is that they have not been prepared to work hard enough.
“They may have wanted to be a champion like me and follow in my footsteps, but they did not want to put in the work that I did to get there. That has been the big problem in squash in Pakistan, the talent is there, no question, but not the fitness and conditioning and we are working hard to address that.”
Khan was recently a guest of prince Prince Umar Ahmedzai, the chairman of the Balochistan International Squash League at the fourth edition of the exhibition event, which Jansher has no doubt will inspire youngsters in Pakistan to pick up a squash racket by bringing the biggest names in the sport like British Open champions Mohamed ElShorbagy and Nouran Gohar to Pakistan
Khan said: “Prince Umar Ahmedzai is the chairman of the Balochistan International Squash League but also its main sponsor and he has done a lot to put squash on in Pakistan with the Balochistan International League held in our cities like Quetta and Multan.
“He has asked me to become ambassador for the next Balochistan League and that is a real honour for me. What was clear to me was how the League brought together both players from Pakistan and from abroad and I saw this as important to our players as it will definitely help them to develop.
“They had the chance to play against Mohamed ElShorbagy, Mostafa Asal, Nouran Gohar and to test themselves against these top players and that, I’m sure, has only benefitted them.
“On top of that, some of our young players from the Academy were lucky enough to see Asal and ElShorbagy play and they were very impressed and were able to learn from watching them in action.
“Going forward the Balochistan plans to bring top-class squash to all the major cities of Pakistan and, again, that can have a really positive effect in growing our sport.”
When it comes to his own health, Jansher has no doubt that his new role has given him a new lease of life.
“I’m okay. I do one hour training with junior players then I do one hour of jogging in our Academy grounds and now I’m physically feeling very good, my knee is okay and so is my back and my Parkinson’s seems to be under control.
“I’m hitting with the under-13 and 15s and I am really enjoying that. I hope that it is good for them to play and hit with someone like me who has been at the top and achieved the things I have done, but what we do on court is only a part of it.
“I think it is also important for me to sit with the youngsters and share with them my experiences and bring the game alive for them. The great thing is you can see they are interested in what my battles with Jahangir, Rodney Martin and the other guys I competed with were like.
“It is good for them to talk with a former World Champion, I hope.”