By Rod Gilmour & Alan Thatcher, Nov 2, 2016: UNTOLD, The authenticity of Jahangir Khan’s legendary run of 555 unbeaten squash matches has been questioned by the authors of a new book on the great Pakistani’s career.
Khan is widely regarded as the greatest squash player of all time thanks to his near six-year unbeaten run from 1981 to 1986. November 11th marks the 30th anniversary of Khan’s incredible unbeaten streak finally ending when New Zealander Ross Norman won the 1986 World Championships.
In the first book to be published on his career for nearly 30 years, ‘555: the untold story behind squash’s invincible champion and sport’s greatest run’, co-authors Rod Gilmour and Alan Thatcher have aimed to recreate that magical period.
Speaking to a raft of Khan’s fellow professionals, the book chronicles:
• The longest unbeaten run in any sport as Jahangir won every match for 5½ years;
• Why the record books will have to be amended over Jahangir’s magical ‘555’ unbeaten figure;
• Why Jahangir was such an imposing presence during his amazing unbeaten period.
The book also details how Norman overcame a parachuting accident and was finally able to break Khan’s stranglehold on the sport when he beat the Pakistani in Toulouse, 1986.
But perhaps the most eye-opening chapter centres on Khan’s long-held unbeaten streak of 555 matches.
The authors, having researched record books, annuals, magazines and newspaper reports of the time, have come to the conclusion that the 555 figure is factually incorrect.
“This was a fascinating project for us both to research and write,” said Gilmour, who co-authored James Willstrop’s acclaimed Shot and a Ghost in 2012, the first squash book to be nominated for the William Hill Sport’s Book of the Year award.
“I grew up reading reports of Jahangir Khan and even then he seemed a mythical, magical figure to me. The chance to delve into a career of a sportsperson who went unbeaten for so long and under immense pressure was too good an opportunity to turn down.
“There were no statisticians at the time chronicling his matches and not once has the figure been highlighted in press reports of the time. We believe that it could be significantly lower. After all, he would have to have played over 20 world tour tournaments each year for five years, which at the time was certainly not the case in tour matches.”
Thatcher said: “His 5½ year unbeaten run is certainly not disputed. That will surely never be conquered. It’s the final tally which we wanted to solve for accuracy’s sake. The real figure? It’s hard to say. But it could be lower than 500, which would mean that Dutch wheelchair tennis great Esther Vergeer could lay claim to the record.”
When it was put to Khan, however, the Pakistani said: “If you calculate it, it could be more. I played invitational, exhibition and challenge matches. The 555 figure should only be my tournament matches. But it could be between six to seven hundred matches if you include the others. Because I wasn’t losing those either!”
Thatcher added that the aim of the book was ultimately not to highlight the false ‘555’ mark, but “to chronicle one of sport’s finest achievements and to bring his wonderful career to life once more.”
“It was a battle to achieve the higher place,” says Khan, thirty years on. “There were so many talented players, but they were all at the same level. Only one or two guys were edging to the top. It must have been frustrating for sure.”