It has been about 4 years (may have been 40 years) since Arif Hussai and Ali Mirza last stepped on the court together at our Lake Success LA Fitness club. They are two native Pakistanians with an absolute passion for squash. I have become friends with both of them and they both have impressed me with their passion for the game and their resolve to get better and help make lesser players better. All roads lead through them for beginner/intermediate players, except over the last four years there's been a fork in the road: Arif one way and Ali the other way. No one knows for sure what happened between the two of them to cause this "cold war"; legend has it some business deal gone awry, others say it was a series of bad let calls during a match...who knows for sure, these kind of things have a way of evolving to the point where no one knows for sure why there's even a feud.
But the wall between the two was impenetrable. During round robin play last year when I tried to get the two of them on court none would have any part in it. At one point when one referee'd the other's match, over a call, a confrontation ensued and we had to spearate the two.
But these two older squash gladiators are remarkable in their own right. Ali Mirza is a lesson in intensity and never ever give up on a point. He is also a master of the mind game and frequently gets inside the heads of his opponents causing them to fluster and make mistakes. He'll take it as much as he'll dish it out. He will admit that he's had little formal training with squash, so his technique and style are awkward, but he makes up for it in tenancity and a fierce competitive spirit. Sometimes that fierceness rubs players the wrong way. He can be agressive and pushy on the court, but outside the court he exudes a charm and confidence that is different from the chip he has on his squash shoulders.
Arif, is a gentleman on and off the court but very wily. Many of the younger players hate playing him because in his back court posture he will nick any ball not tightly served up to him. The points are short, he aims to win without to much exertion. The younger players try harder than ever to get the ball past him, but with his great hands, he just routinely dumps the ball into the front court nick. When one of the younger players moves him away from the T, or from his post in the back, when behind in the score he'll push hard to play it back. When winning, he won't bother to try. Conserve energy and movement, don't tire yourself out. Frustrate the opponent and with the nicest smile and demeanor smile slightly after every front court nick.
During a Muslem holdiay a couple of weeks back, Arif, as he tells me decides to end this cold war. He's very philosphical about it. It was a good time to end the "war" and get on court together. So one day he came to the club and saw Ali at the courts; Arif gently patted him on the back and said hello. Quite a gesture to which Ali, according to sources, nodded hello in approval. Later that evening they came onto the court to hit around for the first time in a very long time.
Last night I watched them play a very good match, two old squash warriors renewing their battle on court. The squash was fun to watch as Arif moved Ali all around but Ali was game, and seemed to get to everything and retrieve it well. It was cause for celebration, believe me, it took a lot for these two to put their differences behind them, forgive and forget, and simply just play squash.
I hope to see these guys on court alot and to see them individually continue to get on court with the less experienced players and even compare notes and maybe eventually root each other in match play. I am wondering, it's hard to resist, just how the cold war would have gone if Nixon and Brezhnev played squash?