In Chennai for the Asian squash championships, Pakistan team manager Qamar Zaman underlines the need for hard work and dedication if young players are to make a mark in the game
A television or radio interview with Qamar Zaman, Pakistan's 1975 British Open Champion, may produce more censor beeps than sound bytes. In town as the manager of the country's team for the Asian squash championships, Zaman alternates between unchecked cussing and cagey admiration — the former at distractions in the electronic age and the latter for India's ongoing ascent in the sport. All of which makes for high entertainment.
Born in Quetta, amid the craggy heights of the western frontier, Zaman is now based in Peshawar, from where he strives, in his own simplistic manner, to restore Pakistan's former glory in a game he confides only “fools indulge in”.
“They used to call us crazy,” he says, “running around all day hitting balls. Yes. This is a game for the insane because there are so few shots to kill a point.”
A master of deception who competed in the 70s and 80s, Zaman won just one of his five British Open finals — also reaching four World Open finals — and preceded Pakistan's era of dominance that was rung in by the Khans — Jahangir and Jansher.
Pakistan's lot has plummeted drastically since those glory years, from being a constant presence in the top five to an influence-less spectre in the 30s and 40s of the rankings. Zaman's anguish at the situation bubbles through with a torrent of invective (edited here for virtuous eyes) sprayed at the current crop of “young, talented wasters”.
“When my grandfather introduced me to squash, I used to practise 4-5 hours a day on a cement court. Then, Jahangir came in and he started practising 6-7 hours a day. Jansher took it even further. Now, these boys just don't want to put in that kind of work.
“They're either hunched over a computer or glued to the cell phone. We have such phenomenal talent, but every bit of it will go waste if the boys are not prepared to work hard. Squash is a simple game with no more than five or six shots, but it requires a high degree of dedication and fitness.”
An entertaining player during his time, the 58-year-old is all praise for India's Saurav Ghosal, currently No. 27 in the PSA rankings. He also concedes that India is on an ascent in the game, and that while Pakistan's middling performances find it in a rut, its focus remains steady on the Commonwealth Games slated for later this year.
“Saurav has shown improvement and has good control. I see a lot of kids playing squash each time I visit Chennai. Although India has gone up and Pakistan has gone down, we're still at the same level internationally. At this tournament, the difference between the top five men is marginal. Most of them have beaten each other in junior tournaments,” he says.
With all that pounding endured on cemented courts, Zaman recently underwent hip surgery to allow him to do what he enjoys most.
“It's tough resisting the temptation to play a short game now and then,” he says.