By RJ Mitchell
Jansher Khan has revealed that he will be watching with interest when the PSA World Tour resumes at the Qatar Classic this week.
Ali Farag’s triumph at the Egyptian Open will take him back to the top of the World Rankings in November for a second time but the man he deposed at the summit of squash, Mohamed ElShorbagy, was not present in the land of the Pharaohs.
Having already reclaimed the top spot on four occasions ‘The Beast of Alexandria’ is sure to bare his teeth in the desert next week as he looks to take back the place at the top with ElShorbagy needing to win the event and Farag not make the final for that to happen.
Now with the impending battle for No.1 set to spark back into action, this has led to the immortal Khan, the man who set a record of 97 months as the game’s emeritus performer between 1988 and 1998, regaining top spot on a record breaking six occasions during his decade of dominance, to admit that being the game’s supreme ruler for this unrivalled span was the greatest achievement of his extraordinary career.
A record he rates above winning World titles and British Opens because it was the ultimate proof of his consistency.
Yet with Farag and ElShorbagy having exchanged top spot on three occasions already, Jansher says this rivalry can be great for squash just like his legendary battles with fellow Pakistani squash legend Jahangir Khan, which Jansher has no hesitation in citing it as the key factor behind his eventual dominance.
Jansher’s unique perspective on just what being No.1 will mean to Farag and ElShorbagy is fascinating: “If I look at everything I achieved in my career then becoming No.1 and staying there for as long as I did was even more important than winning a World Championship or perhaps a British Open.
“The reason for this is simple to be World No.1 and to stay there you have to win many tournaments, you must be so consistent and you can’t afford to have bad days on the court and that is just to get to No.1. Yet when you get there it is even tougher to stay there, believe me.
“To win a World title, or for that matter any single tournament, be it British Open or another, then you can get lucky. Maybe you don’t play so well in an early round, maybe the timing, it is not so good, the motivation not what it should be, you are a human being after all and cannot be at the top of your form every time you walk on a court.
“But because of what has made you No.1, well, you find a way to win, maybe make the most of your luck and get through despite all of that. To get to No.1 consistency is everything, you must win again and again and when you go to No.1 you find that your rivals are trying even harder to beat you and you must raise your game again.
Jansher Khan with the World Championship trophy
“That’s why when I look back on my career and the major titles I won, then being No.1 and regaining it as often as I did to stay there for all these months and years, well looking back now, maybe that is what was my biggest achievement, although, of course, winning World titles and British Opens was a huge part of what got me to No.1 and kept me there.
“So, all of that, I promise you, will be driving Farag and ElShorbagy.”
Yet with Farag treading the sand dunes with a spring in his step after his CIB Egyptian Open triumph while ElShorbagy cooled his heels at his Bristol base, Khan admits momentum and confidence make Farag favourite in Qatar.
The record-breaking eight-time World Champion said: “For sure Ali will have taken a lot of confidence from winning in Egypt on home soil. So if you look at the fact Farag has played both the World Tour Finals where he lost in the semis and then gone all the way in the Egyptian to win that, then he has both the confidence of coming into Qatar as a winner but also he has three tournaments [including the Manchester Open] under his belt and that obviously must be an advantage.
“ElShorbagy has not played these two tournaments, for whatever reason, and yes, of course he can’t be as sharp as Ali, who has all these matches behind him and the confidence and momentum of going to Qatar as both a winner and even more importantly, having reclaimed No.1.
“You look at that and you have to say that from Mohamed’s point of view, if he wants No.1 back then he must stop Ali’s momentum, therefore he must look to win Qatar and that will not be easy as he has not had the competitive game time that Ali has.
“So, it is logical to look at this and to say that Ali must be seen as favourite but perhaps Mohamed will be the more motivated, it is very hard to say.”
Yet of one thing Jansher has no doubt and that is that the Farag-ElShorbagy rivalry can drive the game to new heights just like his grapples with countryman Jahangir, which saw them trade the No.1 ranking on nine occasions between January ’88 when Jansher first got on top and May ’92 when he emerged supreme, and, except for just one month in 1993, remained the game’s top dog until January 1998 for an unsurpassed total of 97 months.
“There is no doubt that my rivalry with Jahangir made me a better player, it is what drove me on to win all these World and British titles. When I came onto the professional scene as a teenager at the Hong Kong Open, Jahangir, he was top, and no one could touch him, but he was my target.
“I knew that it was not going to be enough to work hard, I knew that I had to work harder than all the rest, harder that [Chris] Dittmar, than [Rodney] Martin and, most importantly of all, harder than Jahangir.
“When I beat him for the first time and when I took No.1 from him for the first time it was the best moment of my career at that time and that was because he was such a great champion, he was the greatest champion and I respected him for that but I wanted to beat him, even more, for that too.
“But I knew that Jahangir would come back strongly, he was the greatest champion and he would not sit there, he took No.1 back from me and so I had to lift my game. Over the first few years we battled for it back and forth and that, beyond everything else made me the player I was, made me keep changing my game and drove me on.
Jansher Khan (left) against Jahangir Khan (right)
“I think our rivalry was great for squash in the 80s and 90s and I think it lifted the standard and now I hope that ElShorbagy and Farag, that their rivalry will do the same for them and the same for our sport.
“I know that Ali has just gone No.1 for a second time, so he has wanted it real bad and been very determined to take it back from Mohamed. He cannot control the fact ElShorbagy did not play in Egypt, he can only beat who he has to play, and he has done that.
“But now ElShorbagy must lift his game in Qatar and respond to this challenge if he wants No.1 back and I believe he will because when you look back that is what he does, Mohamed has the hunger that is why he keeps coming back to No.1.
“So, I look forward to seeing how things go on SquashTV next week and I hope we have a final between them.”
Having, as revealed on PSA website earlier this summer, recovered from double back surgery, Jansher is now back on court, where he has become director of coaching at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sports Directorate and is charged with developing young talent from his native Pakistan to ultimately follow in his and Jahangir’s footsteps.
Yet for Jansher there will be one source of sadness next week in Qatar: “It is sad for me that there are no Pakistani players in the main draw in Qatar. Now I have recovered from my back surgery I am working in with 13, 15 and 17 year-olds and I know that there is the talent there to produce champions for Pakistan in the future but that will take time.
“But this is my job at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sports Directorate, I am there to nurture our squash talent and one day, Inshallah, we will have another world champion for Pakistan and someone who can follow in my footsteps.”