Head-Butt

This month’s episode of Outside The Glass, the squash podcast, is about photographs of a particular encounter, during the first round of the 1994 British Open, between Anthony Hill and Mir Zaman Gul. Steve Line took the photos and talks with OTG about what happened that day.

Both players involved were famous and infamous. Hilly was the real deal. He reached world No.5. He lost in the longest final in World Juniors history, 128 minutes and five games to Del Harris in Edinburgh in 1988. And he also had a quirky career for a top-ten player: after a summer of victories in small softball events in the U.S. in the summer of 1989 (on the old Grand Prix circuit), he only captured one more minor pro title in his career before retiring in 2001. Hilly was a talker—during matches he’d mutter and squawk and insult and sledge. I remember watching one match—it was in the qualies of the Canadian Classic Toronto in 2000—and Hilly was winning easily, just crushing it, but he couldn’t help but heap invective upon his opponent. 

Mir Zaman was also very good. He topped out at world No.6. In the early 1990s, after he reached the semis of the U.S. Open and had some other good results. Then he received a twelve-month ban after, as my colleague Richard Eaton delicately described it, “being involved in an incident in which goods went missing from a trader’s display at a tournament in Germany.” When he came back in March 1993, after an eighteen-month absence, he reached the quarters of the Tournament of Champions (back when it was held at the Winter Garden down at the World Trade Center) and the quarters in Hong Kong. 

But at Lamb’s, it all fell apart. They had never played each other before, but the intense rivalry between their two nations and their individual struggles with sportsmanship made for a volatile situation which exploded. Since this was 1994, the early rounds of the event were not recorded or broadcast, so it was sheer luck (or Steve’s innate industriousness) that enabled the world to see the head-butt incident.

The story doesn’t end there. Nineteen months later, in Cairo, Anthony Hill and Mir Zaman Gul played each other again. It was the semis of the 1995 men’s world team championships Australia the no.1 seed against Pakistan the number two. Jansher Khan topped Rod Eyles in four and then Brett Martin overcame Zarak Jahan Khan in a remarkable match: 7-9, 9-10, 9-0, 9-0, 10-8.

So the match was 1-1 and the last guys on court were Hilly and Mir Zaman. There was a lot of shoving and warnings and conduct strokes. Hilly threw his racquet and pushed Mir Zaman and verbally abused the referee. Hilly won the first two games  10-9, 9-3 and in the third game was up 7-2. Mir Zaman came back and won the game in overtime 10-9 and then the next 9-4. In the fifth, Mir Zaman took it 9-3 to put Pakistan in the finals. England then beat Pakistan, with Mark Chaloner hammering Mir Zaman in three.

Because of his unsportsmanlike behavior, the World Squash Federation and Squash Australia banned him from international team events for three years. This was on top of a three-month ban and £1,400 fine he received for poor behavior at the 1995 World Open in Cyprus.

But wait, there’s more. According to SquashInfo.com, Mir Zaman and Hilly played each other twice more, in Hong Kong in September 1996 and in Karachi in October 1997. In both matches, Hilly won in three tight tense games. Many of us also remember our disappointment in September 1999 at the Men’s World Teams in Cairo. Australia and Pakistan drew each other in pool play. The Aussies didn’t roll out Hilly to face Mir Zaman, but sat him on the bench and put in Paul Price—who thrashed Mir Zaman in three.

 It was the end of something that week: Hilly went out in style in his last World Teams, topping Paul Johnson in five even though Australia lost to England in the third-fourth playoff. Pakistan, at the same time, began its long slide off the pinnacle of squash: they came in first in 1993, second in 1995, sixth in 1997 and then, bam, in 1999 they finished 12th. Mir Zaman didn’t win a match all week.

Tied together in some profound way, both Hilly and Mir Zaman retired in the summer of 2001. Mir Zaman’s last match was when he withdrew in the middle of the second game of his first-round qualies match with John Russell in Peshawar, while Hilly stepped away in Cairo three weeks later after losing a two-hour epic 15-12 in the fifth first-rounder with Martin Heath.

Mir Zaman moved back to Pakistan with brief stints of coaching in Washington DC and Charlotte, North Carolina. He was given a life ban by the World Squash Federation after an incident with another referee at the 2005 Men’s World Teams in Islamabad. Hilly on the other hand moved to Cairo, converted to Islam and coached there for a dozen years (including coaching Hosni Mubarak’s grandson) before returning to Australia.

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