Dilshan ready to take up the challenge
By Dilanka Mannakkara
The usually daring, dashing and fashionable Tillekaratne Dilshan seems to have undergone a massive change. Dilshan appeared to be a changed man at the press-conference when he was officially appointed as Sri Lankaís cricket team captain for their all-important tour of England. Dilshan, who is associated with his innovative and, at times, reckless stroke play; with his blond streaks, a funky stud in the ear and a goatee which takes hours to trim with a unique style, has appeared to change his outlook completely.

Winds of change!
Why does the ICC continue to tweak or tinker with the World Cup format?
By Saad Shafqat
There have been ten cricket World Cups so far, and nearly as many variations in the format of this premier tournament. This is very surprising, because you donít see other major sporting events tweaking or tinkering with their format with such restlessness.

The evolution of cricket
By Aamir Bilal
White balls, black sightscreens, coloured clothing, TV referrals, fourth umpires and blaring music -- what on earth would WG Grace have made of it all! Undoubtedly, the game developed greatly in the days of cricketís grand old man, but it is hard to imagine a period of more rapid evolution than the past 30 years. The gameís modern financial powerhouse contrasts starkly with cricketís humble origins in England centuries ago.

Hockeyís high hopes
Officials in Pakistan and India are making efforts to revive bilateral series between the two countries, hoping that it will give the sport a much-needed boost in the region
By Bilal Hussain
Hockey in the sub-continent is hoping for a shot in the arm later this year with the much-anticipated revival of the bilateral series between old rivals Pakistan and India.
Officials on both sides of the border have over the past few days released positive statements over the possibility of a Indo-Pak series ahead of this yearís FIH Champions Trophy to be played in December in New Delhi.

Asiad gold has revived Pakistan hockey: Junaid
By Ijaz Chaudhry
World Cup winner and Olympic bronze medallist Khawaja Junaid is the manager of Pakistanís national team since October 2010. Prior to it, he was in charge of Pakistanís youth and Under-18 sides. We decided to ask him about Pakistan teamís training and prospects.
The News On Sunday: How do you see Pakistan hockey now, especially after the Asiad gold?

Going for gold
Naseem Hameed, Pakistanís sprint queen, was missing again at the National Athletics Championship which saw several new records in Lahore
By Alam Zeb Safi
As usual, both the super heavyweights Army and WAPDA reasserted their dominance both on the track and field to share glory at the National Athletics Championships which concluded in Lahore last Thursday.

 

 

 

 

 

Dilshan ready to take up the challenge

By Dilanka Mannakkara

The usually daring, dashing and fashionable Tillekaratne Dilshan seems to have undergone a massive change. Dilshan appeared to be a changed man at the press-conference when he was officially appointed as Sri Lankaís cricket team captain for their all-important tour of England. Dilshan, who is associated with his innovative and, at times, reckless stroke play; with his blond streaks, a funky stud in the ear and a goatee which takes hours to trim with a unique style, has appeared to change his outlook completely.

Fortunately, though, he has opted for a more professional, sober approach -- possibly to overcome the criticism of the narrow-minded public. BUt it is hoped that he hasnít changed his attacking mode of play. Dilshan possibly never expected captaincy himself and even his most beloved fan wouldnít have expected a relatively hot-headed, aggressive, and cheeky Dilshan to take over the reins of the national team.

But how things change and once Kumar Sangakkara dropped a bombshell by resigning from his post and with vice-captain Mahela Jayawardena following him, there was no suitable candidate for the job. Sri Lanka Cricket never groomed a predecessor for Sangakkara as it was expected that he would continue till 2013.

Once Sangakkara resigned, Dilshan was interviewed and he boldly, and not so modestly, said that he is ready to captain the country. As they say fortune favours the brave and Dilshan, who was never earmarked as a captain, got the job and ironically a vice-captain hasnít been named since the injured Angelo Mathews would not take part in the Test series in England.

 

Dilshanís forgettable experience as captain

Some of my friends had asked me who would be the next captain and I, without any hesitation, said it would be Dilshan. I got some horror looks in return as according to them, Dilshan is too quick tempered; he bashed the bowlers when he was captain in a T20 International against India.

I truly remember this incident. This happened when Sri Lanka fielded a new side with Dilshan being captain while Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan were rested.

Sri Lanka were in total control before the Pathan brothers -- Irfan and Yusuf -- turned rampage and Dilshan, who was under immense pressure in front of a 25,000 home crowd in Premadasa, was seen screaming and shouting at Thilan Thushara who bowled a couple of wides at a crucial stage in the match.

Dilshan, who was keeping wickets in the match, showed signs of frustration as his ridiculous bowling changes cost Sri Lanka the match. The incident attracted plenty of negative media attention and his fans were of a strong opinion that Dilshan could never captain a side.

This happened two years ago and the SLC were even reluctant to name Dilshan as even the vice-Captain mainly due to this incident but Dilshan has matured and when he captained the team in the Tri-series in Zimbabwe, he showed great aggression to win the series.

 

Aggressive, daring, and less diplomatic than Sanga

Kumar Sangakkara is the perfect brand ambassador for cricket. He is well-read, with a great cricketing knowledge, calm, very diplomatic, charismatic, a true gentleman and probably the best-speaking cricketer in the whole world. There is a touch of professionalism in him in every act he does and whenever I interview him, he is very diplomatic in answering questions at the same time being polite, confident and defensive whenever there is a negative comment. Sanga, on the field, is a great batsmen but when the pressure mounts on him, he becomes risk averse and goes on the defensive.

The sharp-tongued, chirpy Sanga was seen in his early days as a keeper; especially with that wonderful art of sledging which came to the fore against South Africaís Shaun Pollock -- and that too without the usage of abusive language. But as soon as he was appointed as skipper; that aggressiveness, the ruthlessness that he promised so much was slowly but surely declining -- maybe because of the immense responsibility on his shoulders as the mainstay of the batting order.

Sangaís certain field settings and bowling changes didnít help Sri Lanka win games. A prime example was Sri Lankaís opening game against Pakistan in the World Cup where he kept four fielders in the ring and Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan milked singles with ease. He had a shocker as a captain in the final against India and in my opinion, took a brave decision to quit the captaincy.

Dilshan, on the other hand, is quite the opposite of Sanga. In the 2009 T20 World Cup, Dilshan just said a meek Ďhelloí to one of world cricketís greatest players, Sir Gary Sobers, who was witnessing a Sri Lankan practice session as he did not recognise the West Indian legend. Dilshan later said that he didnít know that it was Sir Gary; displaying his ignorant yet honest opinion.

Dilshan was also very confident of himself and his ability that when the all-important question was posed about the challenges while captaining a team without Lasith Malinga and Murali.

"I am ready to take up any challenge very confidently," he said.

 

Fines, cheekiness -- all part of Dilshan

He has had his share of controversies as well. I canít remember any other Lankan player who has made more visits to the Match Refereeís room than Dilshan and in turn has gone on to lose quite a portion of his match fees as well. The most famous one being the "infamous no-ball" of Suraj Randiv where he instructed the bowler to deliver one and was fined a staggering $3500.

I also remember an incident where Dilshan took the wicket of little master Sachin Tendulkar and did a very cheeky dance as a send-off. His vociferous send-off of Virat Kohli in the World Cup final showed his explosive passion for the game. Dilshan was posed a question about his aggressiveness and he replied, "I love playing attacking cricket and I will continue to do so."

Along with the excitement, he brings to Sri Lankan cricket, his canny tricks can not only catch the opposition off-guard, but has probably saved the lives of several cricketers as it was he who instructed his teammates to go down when gunmen fired at the Sri Lankan team bus on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore two years ago.

He may not have a cool, calm head like Dhoni; he may not be a tactical wizard like Mark Taylor; he may not be diplomatic like Sangakkara or a strategy specialist like Daniel Vettori but he brings explosiveness, innovativeness and aggression to the team similar to what Shahid Afridi brings to the Pakistan team. Hopefully will not take captaincy too seriously and change his game plan as he knows one way to play -- attack at all costs.

It may be risky, but the more the risk, the more the return would be and it is indeed worth taking a gamble!

 

Dilanka Mannakkara is a freelance sports journalist based in Colombo

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Winds of change!

Why does the ICC continue to tweak or tinker with the World Cup format?

By Saad Shafqat

There have been ten cricket World Cups so far, and nearly as many variations in the format of this premier tournament. This is very surprising, because you donít see other major sporting events tweaking or tinkering with their format with such restlessness.

The FIFA Football World Cup, for example, follows the same straightforward script every four years, as do other high-profile competitions such as Wimbledon and the US Open in tennis, the Ryder Cup or the Masters in golf, or the annual American championships for basketball and baseball. From edition to edition, the pattern repeats itself without controversy or fuss.

But the most important global event in cricket has proved to be far more eccentric. Observers and experts have hailed the recently concluded 2011 world cup as the best ever, yet even this doesnít seem good enough for cricketís world governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Halfway through this tournament, ICC bosses announced that the 2015 edition of the world cup would see yet another format change in that the competition would be restricted to the 10 Test-playing nations who have full membership status within the ICC. This did not go down well with the second-tier associate member nations such as Ireland and Netherlands, who had performed with credit throughout and posed serious challenges to the Test-playing teams on several occasions.

The ICCís unstated logic is economic. Matches between associate and frontline teams are frequently one-sided and generate little interest, and matches played by associate teams amongst each other are virtually ignored. These encounters do not fill up stadiums are naturally deemed to be a financial waste; they try the patience of sponsors and pose a burden for the leanness and efficiency of the tournament.

As with many decisions formulated within economic confines, however, this move appears short-sighted. Foremost, the ICCís mandate is to promote the growth of cricket around the world, and blooding new teams into the fold has to be a core part of their strategy.

Moreover, the World Cup record of associate teams has hardly been dull, with almost each edition of the tournament witnessing an upset or two. In 1979, Sri Lanka (not a Test nation back then) beat India. In 1983, Zimbabwe (also not a Test nation back then) beat an Australian team that included legends Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Allan Border. In 1999, Bangladesh beat Pakistan in a match that more or less secured Test status for Bangladesh. In 2003, Kenya had a dream run that included victory over Sri Lanka propelling them into the semifinals. In 2007, Ireland beat Pakistan in a stunner that probably caused the losing coach Bob Woolmer to have a heart attack. And of course in 2011, Ireland beat England chasing 300-plus in a dramatic turnaround.

Given this recent Irish momentum, it comes as no surprise that their captain, William Porterfield, and their cricket board chief, Warren Deutrom, have been the most scathing in their criticism of the ICC. Irelandís dragon-slaying World Cup record lends their criticism great credibility.

In fact, Irelandís example proves that the consequences of a restricted World Cup in 2015 are deeper and more damaging than we realize. The most promising of the associate nations and already knocking at the doors of Test cricket, Irelandís best players are bound to seek refuge in other teams (such as England or South Africa) if they are prevented from showcasing their ability in the next World Cup. This talent hemorrhage will set them back by many years. In effect, the ICCís proposal for the 2015 World Cup format will end up punishing those who have performed the best at the associate level.

Perhaps even more toxic is the unwelcome odor of exclusivity reeking from the ICC proposal. Cricket, a product emerging from Victorian English gentry, has its roots in snobbery and social hierarchy. Indeed, there was a time when the sport would distinguish between "gentlemen" and "players", and captains of national teams would be chosen based on heritage and social rank rather than tactical acumen and cricketing ability. ICCís plans for keeping even the most promising second-tier teams out of the next World Cup harken back to those clubby days. In the 21st century, this is most jarring.

The good news is that trenchant criticism from the likes of Irelandís Deutrom and Porterfield, coupled with cricket officials from other associate nations and progressive opinion-makers from around the world, has had some impact. Last week Sharad Pawar, the ICC president, finally announced that the world body would reconsider its thinking regarding the format of the 2015 edition. In cricketing terms, there is no mistaking that the ICC has been pushed on to the back foot.

Economic pressures can be very compelling, and it remains to be seen what the ICC will eventually decide when it meets to deliberate over the matter at its annual conference in Hong Kong in June. For the moment, though, the very acknowledgment of the need for a rethink is good reason for optimism. If logic prevails, there will certainly be room for the top associate nations to participate in the World Cup of 2015.

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The evolution of cricket

By Aamir Bilal

White balls, black sightscreens, coloured clothing, TV referrals, fourth umpires and blaring music -- what on earth would WG Grace have made of it all! Undoubtedly, the game developed greatly in the days of cricketís grand old man, but it is hard to imagine a period of more rapid evolution than the past 30 years. The gameís modern financial powerhouse contrasts starkly with cricketís humble origins in England centuries ago.

Cricket though not yet part of the Olympics, more or less due to lack of ICCís interest has now the global appeal and approval, but how did it all begin? Ancient references mostly talk about the bat and ball games in England and Europe, and it have even been suggested by historians that the highlands of China were in fact cricketís cradle. But it is more widely acknowledged that the modern game originated in England and was played by shepherds, whose sheep would have kept the grass short enough to permit the procedure of rolling the ball along the ground.

A shepherdís crook might well have been the prototype bat, given the curved shape of the earliest known specimens. A ball could have been made of matted wool, held together by wax and; what better target for the bowler than a wicket gate from a sheepís pen?

The wardrobe accounts of Edward I in 1300 contain one of the earliest references to cricket. It concerns payment to the chaplain of the Kingís son "for monies paid out himself or by the hands of others, for the said Prince playing at creag and other sports at Westminster on 10th March." A more precise reference occurs in 1598, when a witness at a court case on disputed land mentions that "he and diverse of his fellows did runne and play there at creckett and other plaies."

Much evidence follows of cricket incurring the wrath of the Church. In Sussex, a case was brought against six men for playing cricket instead of attending Sunday evensong, and two churchwardens were admonished for joining them. In 1629 a curate, Henry Cuffin, was castigated for "playing at crickets" on the Sabbath "in a very unseemly fashion with boys and other very mean and base persons."

The growing importance of wagers on matches was highlighted in a court case in 1646 over the non-payment of a Cricket-related bet, and by the end of the century there was a press report of an 11-a-side match in Sussex played for "fifty guineas apiece." By the 1700s, private clubs were flourishing, and cricket, by then acknowledged as a conventional sport, represented a comparatively new opportunity for gambling and match fixing that has followed the game of Cricket since its inception.

Evidence of a recognised form of the game existed in 1706, and although the Laws were not formulated until nearly 40 years later, the earlier document shows how the various local versions of cricket had come together in an accepted form. The ball was made of leather and bowled at one of two batsmen who defended a wicket comprising two stumps with a single bail across the top; there were also fielders, umpires and scorers.

A significant part in cricketís development was played by the village of Hambledon in Hampshire, which boasted a team including so many of the era between 1772 and 1781 that they won more than half of 51 matches played against All England.

As Hambledonís influence declined towards the end of the century, London Club grew in importance. One such club was Marylebone, which was set up at a new ground opened by Thomas Lord, where Dorset Square is now situated. Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was established in 1787, the year the venue opened.

In 1828 the MCC was compelled to approve round-arm bowling, which developed from the previous under-arm technique in which the bowlerís hand was as high as his elbow. Barely had the new Law been introduced than it was broken: Players went further and bowled from shoulder height, forcing the MCC to endorse such bowling as legitimate in 1835. By 1864 over-arm bowling was permitted, and the game was well on its way to appearing broadly as it does today.

Crowds of people were now flocking to watch the big matches, heralding cricketís emergence as a major spectator sport. Important matches included Gentlemen versus Players, North versus South, Nottingham versus Sheffield and various games involving the MCC. But before long, the Victorian public had tired of such fare, engaging instead with county cricket and later still, with Test cricket. In both cases, the public was demonstrating a need for representative rather than commercial forms of the game.

Test cricket is officially regarded as having begun in 1877 when Australia defeated England by 45 runs in Melbourne. The Ashes legend was born five years later, and in 1889 South Africa became the third Test-playing nation. The West Indies entered the international arena in 1928, just two years before New Zealand. In 1932 India joined Test cricket, and 20 years later so did the seventh Test nation, Pakistan. Sri Lanka joined in 1982, followed by Zimbabwe in 1992 and Bangladesh in 2000.

The birth of One-day Internationals, like so much in cricket, owed more than a little to the weather. When Englandís players were in Australia in 1970 to 1971, persistent rain forced the abandonment of the third Test in Melbourne. Out of courtesy to the spectators, a limited-overs match was hastily arranged to take place on what would have been the final day of the Test. It was 40 overs a side and proved to be an instant hit, leading to the short, one-day series and the birth of World Cup less than five years later. Since that unscheduled encounter in 1971, more than 2,500 One-day Internationals have been played across the world.

The venue for the first three World Cups was England, where one-day cricket had been popular since the inauguration of the Gillette Cup in 1963, a move that rescued the county game from potentially terminal decline.

No doubt that cricket has evolved beyond the gentlemen sport. It is now a billion-dollar industry that requires matching skills to manage its affairs. Finances generated through sponsors, marketing, gate money and media rights are just the shadow of what goes behind the scene, where billions of dollars exchange hands without any accountability.

 

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Hockeyís high hopes

Officials in Pakistan and India are making efforts to revive bilateral series between the two countries, hoping that it will give the sport a much-needed boost in the region

By Bilal Hussain

Hockey in the sub-continent is hoping for a shot in the arm later this year with the much-anticipated revival of the bilateral series between old rivals Pakistan and India.

Officials on both sides of the border have over the past few days released positive statements over the possibility of a Indo-Pak series ahead of this yearís FIH Champions Trophy to be played in December in New Delhi.

"The revival of a full-fledged series against India on a home-and-away basis is one of the major targets for us this year," Asif Bajwa, the Pakistan Hockey Federation PHF secretary told ĎThe News on Sundayí. "The good news is that hockey officials in India are as keen as the PHF to revive the series and we hope that with the approval of the two governments we will be able to revive the series before December this year," added Bajwa, a former Olympian.

Senior officials of Hockey India -- the governing body of the game in that country -- have expressed similar views.

HI secretary Narendra Batra declared in a recent interview that both federations are keen to renew hockey ties between the two countries.

"But it is not in our hands. It can happen only if the government gives the go ahead. We will soon put the proposal before the government," said Batra.

Batra has spoken to Bajwa and initiated the process. According to the HI official, this positive development became possible after the World Cup cricket semifinal between India and Pakistan at Mohali last month. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh witnessed the high-profile match in Mohali.

Reviving the Pakistan-India series is a must for hockey on both sides of the border. There was once a time when Pakistan and India were the leading powers in the world of hockey but the scenario has changed drastically in the last quarter of a century. The Asian giants now lag far behind hockey-playing nations like Australia, Holland, Germany, Spain and England. Even fellow Asian team South Korea enjoys a better record that Pakistan and India in the last couple of decades.

"Its really important for both Pakistan and India to play hockey series on a home-and-away basis regularly," Islahuddin Siddiqui, the former Pakistan captain, told ĎThe News on Sundayí. "Hockey has lost its sheen in our part of the world and to revive its glory we will have to make it sure that Pakistan and India play against each other frequently," he stressed.

Islah welcomed the latest development but was quick to add that the PHF ill have to take concrete steps to ensure that the series does take place this year. "There have been similar promises in the past but nothing happened. I hope that this time they really mean it," said Islah, a former Olympian.

Bajwa is confident that the series will be revived sooner than later. And he is hopeful that Pakistan will be able to host the first leg before Decemberís Champions Trophy.

"India has been very lucky in recent years as far as international hockey activity is concerned," he said. "It has hosted a number of major events like the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games and will be staging several more events like the Champions Trophy and the Olympic Qualifiers in the near future. Its Pakistan that desperately needs hockey matches on its home soil which is why we are making efforts to have the Pakistan-India series in our country before we go and play the second leg in India."

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Asiad gold has revived Pakistan hockey: Junaid

By Ijaz Chaudhry

World Cup winner and Olympic bronze medallist Khawaja Junaid is the manager of Pakistanís national team since October 2010. Prior to it, he was in charge of Pakistanís youth and Under-18 sides. We decided to ask him about Pakistan teamís training and prospects.

The News On Sunday: How do you see Pakistan hockey now, especially after the Asiad gold?

Khawaja Junaid: The Asiad victory was important in many aspects. The longest title drought in Pakistanís history ended after 16 years. We obtained a direct entry into the Olympics after a long time. All team members tasted a meaningful victory for the first time. Then the Olympic qualification has given us time for experimentation to prepare a strong outfit for the 2012 London Games. The title of Asian games champion means we are again being invited to tournaments competed by the first-tier teams. Over the last few years, Pakistanís poor ranking meant they were being shunned. Hockeyís profile in the country has received a boost. Players were well received and rewarded after the Asiad victory. All this has made them more confident and hungry for more success.

TNS: What is the federationís plan to utilise the time in the lead up to the Olympics?

KJ: The main emphasis is on providing as much quality competition to the boys as possible. The preparatory camp for the Azlan Shah Cup is in full swing. Though only an invitational tournament this year, it has a quality line-up including Australia, Great Britain and Korea. In June and July, two 4-nation tournaments are slotted in Ireland and Holland, the latter event has the strongest possible opposition in Holland, Australia and probably England. It would be followed by two bilateral series in Holland and Belgium.

In September, the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy is scheduled in China where top six sides of the continent would be in action. Next up is Australia, the most dominating team in recent times. Aussies are hosting a nine-a-side four nation tourney in October. The matches would have lesser duration with three periods and some different rules.

The event is to be followed by three tests against the Australians. Returning home, the preparations for the all-important Champions trophy, to be held in Delhi in December, would start.

The federation has already started planning to utilise the time next year before the London 2012.

TNS: Donít you think such an exhaustive schedule could burn out players?

KJ: Your argument carries weight. We have planned to rotate players. The pool would be of at least 25 boys and not 16 or 18. For the forthcoming Azlan Shah Cup, Zeeshan Ashraf and Salman Akbar are not with us. The players will be rested in between the various assignments.

TNS: How you see the role of Michel Van Den Heuvel, the Dutch chief coach of the team?

KJ: Michel has 15 years of coaching experience at the top level and is well versed with the modern trends of training and is a strict disciplinarian with good man management skills. The areas that have seen major a improvement in since his arrival is the defence in the wake of a sudden attack, accuracy in passing and receiving, plus he is also a shrewd analyst of playersí individual strengths and weaknesses. A master in both the macro and micro areas of coaching.

Myself and the two assistant coaches, Shahid Ali Khan and Ajmal enjoy good chemistry with him.

TNS: What are the grey areas requiring the greatest attention?

KJ: Quite a few. Even the basic skills need improvement to bring at par with the leading teams. Shooting on target is weak. Then our playersí collective response to a changing scenario on the pitch is also a great concern.

TNS: What about the physical fitness?

KJ: It is being done very scientifically. Every playerís data related to heart rate, fat level, etc., is regularly monitored. Likewise beep tests are conducted. In light of all these, a playerís diet chart is made in consultation with the doctor. For power training, the boys do gym work. We have heart rate transmitters, a very latest technology. They are strapped around playersí chests and linked to the computer via a wireless network. Playersí current heart rates are picked up in terms of the percentage of their maximums. Thus their level of effort gets measured.

TNS: There is the oft-repeated question of the ageing senior players. Are they fit enough to last till the London 2012?

KJ: I think they should be phased out in a systematic manner. Remember, we went to the Commonwealth games without Salman Akbar and Sohail Abbas. There was a lot of criticism when they were recalled for the Asiad but both justified their selection. Salman was the hero of the semifinal and Sohail scored in the final. So you have to have suitable replacements.

Then there are special cases. For example, a goalkeeperís general fitness demands are less since he doesnít run up and down the field. If a goalkeeperís reflexes remain sharp he lasts longer. Salman has proved that. Sohail is still our best bet for penalty corner and a threat to opponents. Having said that, we are also trying to prepare suitable replacements. Teenaged mid fielder Tauseeq, in the team for last one year, is a good flicker and should improve. Likewise, the three custodians in the camp, Imran Shah, Imran Butt and the youth Olympic hero Mazhar are under the tutelage of Shahid Ali Khan, with the first mentioned shaping well. I always emphasise to create competition for each position.

TNS: There is a talk of revival of Indo-Pak series. Would it be of any benefit given both the teams are ranked outside the top six?

KJ: From the technical point of view we might not gain much but the Indo-Pak contests create a special atmosphere. Playing in a pressure match in front of a large vociferous crowd is a training in itself; more so for the younger boys.

TNS: Coming to the question every Pakistani would be interested in, how you assess Pakistanís chances in the 2012 Olympics?

KJ: Like every Pakistani, I dream for the podiumís top. However, one has to be realistic. Pakistan has been through its worst ever period in international hockey for last many years. We have only just started climbing back. Given the time available and the efforts afoot, the maximum we should aspire is a top-four finish.

Khawaja Junaid who managed the Pakistan team regaining the Asiad gold was the member of the team when the country won it the last time before 2010 i.e. 1990. He was also in the side when green shirts last won an Olympic medal, bronze in 1992. He has already managed the Pakistan youth team which won the silver in the inaugural youth Olympic last year.

So it might be a good omen as Junaid is likely to remain the manager of Pakistan team for the 2012 Olympics.

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Going for gold

Naseem Hameed, Pakistanís sprint queen, was missing again at the National Athletics Championship which saw several new records in Lahore

By Alam Zeb Safi

As usual, both the super heavyweights Army and WAPDA reasserted their dominance both on the track and field to share glory at the National Athletics Championships which concluded in Lahore last Thursday.

Army (372 points) grabbed 14 gold, nine silver, and seven bronze medals to retain their crown in the menís category while WAPDA ended as runners-up in the section with 249 points which they collected by virtue of winning five gold, nine silver and seven bronze medals. They were followed by PAF (103 points, 2 gold, 2 silver, 5 bronze), Railways (24 points, no medal), Navy (17 points, 1 silver), Punjab (14 points, no medal), HEC (8 points, 1 bronze), Sindh (7 points, 1 bronze). Similarly, WAPDA with 449 points, showed their supremacy in the womenís category by lifting 19 gold, 14 silver, and 4 bronze medals. They were followed by HEC (83 points, 3 silver, 3 bronze), Punjab (74 points, 9 bronze), Army (60 points, 3 silver, 2 bronze), Railways (41 points, 1 gold), Sindh (20 points, 1 bronze), Police (10 points, 1 silver). Overall (both menís and womenís events) WAPDA took first position with 698 points with 24 gold, 23 silver and 11 bronze. They were followed by Army (434 points, 14 gold, 12 silver, 9 bronze and PAF (103 points, 2 gold, 2 silver, 5 bronze).

In the three-day affair in which around 600 athletes took part from across the country, few national records were also made which shows that the mother of all sports in Pakistan is slowly growing in spite of the lack of facilities. Liaquat Ali from Army, who has been very impressive for the last few years, has bettered his previous 100-metre national record of 10.48 seconds by clocking 10.1 seconds to become the fastest athlete of the country. Rabia Ashiq from WAPDA also rewrote history in the 10,000m race by clocking a record timing of 40:42.7. Similarly, in heptathlon, Nasreen Akhtar from WAPDA secured 3803 points to set a new national record. Sumaira Tayyaba from WAPDA clocked 12.3 seconds to win her 100m sprint.

Overall, it was a successful event as except from South Asian sprint queen Naseem Hameed almost all the leading athletes of the country took part in it and won gold medals in their respective events.

Naseem Hameed, who had become the first Pakistani woman athlete to win the 100m gold in the 11th South Asian Games in Dhaka last year, once again failed to grace the national championship due to no apparent reason. Naseem, who had lifted 100-metre gold in the 31st National Games in Peshawar last year by finishing few fractions short of her 11.81 seconds feat in the South Asian Games, had also skipped her favourite event and rather featured only in relay in the last yearís National Championships in Islamabad while representing Pakistan Steel.

Though the event missed eight top-class athletes who were slapped with a two-year ban last year after they were found guilty for using banned drugs, the available lot showed grace on the track and field and some of them also improved their individual performances which is encouraging for Pakistan athletics. It is believed that when an athlete is banned for doping, it becomes difficult for him or her to make a comeback. But this is not in case of 110-metre hurdler Mohammad Sajjad, who had not only won gold in the National Games in Peshawar on his return after serving two-year ban but clinched another one in the national championship by recording a timing of 13.9. Sajjad from Pakistan Air Force has also been selected by the Asian Athletics Association for the Asian Grand Prix to be held in different venues in China from May 22 to 29.

The event, in which few records were also made, shows that athletics needs focus from the authorities. Though Pakistan lost a dozen of athletes because of doping in the last three years, and will take time to recover that loss but still there is a great talent in the country which can be transformed into an accomplished lot if properly plans for it.

Other countries, like India, are concentrating on individual sports while we are destroying such sports and are rather spending in millions on few team sports in which our status is far from satisfactory. Our athletes last played in the South Asian Games in Dhaka in January-February last year and since then they have been desperately waiting for another international assignment after missing out Commonwealth Games and Asian Games on the trot due to various reasons. And the Asian Championships pencilled in for July 7-10 in Kobe, Japan, may break the long drought of the Pakistani athletes. In the past our athletes used to impress supreme in the Asian circuit because the authorities used to train them mostly in England and other countries. But now, we lack that culture and that is why our athletes cannot think beyond the South Asian Games. No doubt, they have the talent and charisma to excel in international circuit but they need the support of the government to hone their skills and I must say that the authorities now should change their priority and rather think about athletics and other individual sports with an eye of professionals.

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