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Mohamed ElShorbagy on Jansher Khan

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Mohamed El Shorbagy arrived in the UK as a callow 15 year-old and quickly found himself under the wing of squash immortal Jonah Barrington. A key part of the rookie Egyptian’s squash education was the study of videotapes spanning Jansher Khan’s record-breaking 10 years as the global game’s ruler.

During this period of ElShorbagy’s life, Jansher was elevated to an emeritus status in the impressionable young tyro’s consciousness. It has meant that the eight-time world champion remains the squash great whom the current imcumbent at world No.1 continues to revere above all others.

ElShorbagy has won one World Open and finished runner-up in two others, so can empathise to some extent with the pressures Khan must have felt as he took to the boards to face England’s Del Harris on November 11, 1995 in Nicosia, Cyprus. The World No.1 admitted it was hard to comprehend just how heavy the weight of expectancy, self-generated pressure and his impending entry in the squash history books must have been on those slight shoulders.

“When Jansher was going for that seventh world title and trying to beat Jahangir’s record the pressure must have been immense, in fact almost unimaginable, and in some ways Jahangir set the record and then Jansher came along and spoiled the party,” Mohamed suggested. “But every time Jansher went on court people would obviously have raised their game to try and beat him or at least make him work. I guess it is a bit like the old adage about the small team playing a big team in a cup match, they are always going to raise their game.

“To be closing in on that piece of history and knowing that one off day could ruin it all, well the pressure would have mounted with every round Jansher played in ’95.

“But the other way you have to look at this is that Jansher worked extremely hard for over 10 years to build that pressure by becoming World No.1 and staying there for the longest reign anyone has had at the top.

“So, he did not want it any other way and the expectancy and pressure he generated was testament to his success. You couldn’t have one without the other. Jansher worked incredibly hard to be the person to beat and his place in squash’s record books show what a tremendous job he did.

“But for me I can only imagine the feelings of achievement and relief when he won that seventh world title.”

Reflecting on his tutelage under Barrington at Millfield School, ElShorbagy admitted that the lessons he learned from studying Jansher’s defining moments, which included six British Open titles as well as that all-time high watermark of eight World Opens, provided him with lessons that have continued to inform a hugely impressive career in which he has reclaimed the World No.1 status on a record-breaking four occasions.

ElShorbagy said: “When I first arrived in England to work with Jonah we spent a lot of time watching VT of Jansher and particularly we were looking at how he would change and adapt his style to deal with the different challengers he faced. He was the master of improving and adapting and I guess he had to be.

“To start with he was chasing Jahangir and then when Jansher became No.1 he then had to deal with the challengers of his status as No.1, in the likes of Rodney Martin, Chris Dittmar, Peter Marshall, Peter Nicol, Rodney Eyles and Jonathon Power.

“To have been top of the rankings for 10 years underlines how successful he was at that and Jonah used his example to help me realise that all through my own career I must continue to look to make progressions, adjustments and do my best to keep improving.

“In many ways when I look back on my own career, I am able to compare it with Jansher’s in that I have faced different generations, different rivals. Starting with Greg Gaultier and Nick Matthew, who were a good bit older than me, obviously Ramy [Ashour] and players of my own generation in Ali Farag, Karim Abdel Gawad, Tarek Momen and Paul Coll, and now there is the new generation coming through like Diego Elias and Mostafa Asal, so there are similarities there.

“But the lessons I absorbed from watching Jansher have really helped me in my own career, there is no doubt about that.”

When it came to his assessment of Jansher’s strengths, ElShorbagy issued this glowing appraisal: “What impressed me about Jansher was the way he was able to read his opponents. Obviously when he came through, and I think he has said this himself, his game was based on his movement and physicality. The way he used to walk to the ball was just unbelievable and appeared so effortless,” said the 29-year-old from Alexandria.

“To stay at the top for such a long time you must stay ahead of the chasing pack and that was where Jansher’s determination to keep evolving his game stood him in good stead.

“Yet I think the mental side of his game was also exceptional and I believe he has not had the credit for how clever he was and for his tactical guile. If you watch Jansher’s matches spanning his career you can see that he added a more attacking game because he knew very well that while getting to No.1 is tough it is much harder to stay there.”

When it comes to the perennial debate over who is squash’s G.O.A.T (greatest of all time), which for many would be a two-horse race between the man Jansher succeeded as World No.1, Jahangir Khan, and his younger compatriot, El Shorbagy says that what matters most is that our sport was lucky to have had the rich chapters of history written by these two squash titans.

“Both Jahangir and then Jansher were the greatest players of their generations and when you look at the record books, they both achieved things that were unsurpassed. They they occupy unique places in our sport’s history,” opines ElShorbagy.

Yet there is a qualification on that judgement: “But what I will say is that I think Jansher was the most complete player. He was streetwise, his movement was unsurpassed, he had different facets to his game and developed it greatly with a short attacking game.

“Of course, my coach Rodney Martin has told me all about the intensity that Jahangir brought to the court and that no one had that unique ability, but I think that Jansher’s game was the most rounded.”

Jahangir, of course, set a record of 10 British Opens and had a slightly better head-to-head record against his younger compatriot, but ELShorbagy calls solely statistical comparisons “unfair”.

He concludes: “What we have to say is that they both did so much for our sport and that we are lucky to have had them and all the history they created.”

READ the story of how Jansher Khan set the world championship title record in the latest issue.