It’s time to specialise
to turn blue – and pink!
past the champions
flop, yet again!
For the love of the game
Former Pakistan golf chief Azim Khan is an accomplished mechanical engineer with a genuine passion for the sport
By Khalid Hussain
A few weeks back, Azim
Khan fell in his drawing room and broke his arm. For the Septuagenarian,
it was a major blow mainly because the doctors told him that he will not
be able to play golf for several months. ‘I told myself ‘it can’t
be happening’,” says Khan, regarded among the pioneers of Pakistan
golf, in an interview with ‘The News on Sunday’. ‘These days my
life revolves around golf. I just know what to do now,” he laments as
he looks at a painting gifted to him personally by the legendary
For the moment, he is
just waiting for his arm to get good enough for him to resume playing 18
holes of golf at the picturesque Karachi Golf Club that used to be his
daily dose before the accident.
Khan picked up golf as
a hobby back in the sixties when he was living and working in Lahore but
soon fell in love with the sport. He went on to become president of the
Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) then known as Pakistan Golf Union. As a
golfer, he played and captained Pakistan in several international events
Khan is a mechanical
engineer by profession but his true passion is sports. As a young boy,
his first love was hockey, once the most popular sport in the
sub-continent. The Lucknow-born Khan actively played several games
including cricket, tennis and table tennis before finally finding the
love of his life — golf.
“It was in 1960 when
I first played golf. We live in front of a golf course in Lahore at that
time. Initially I hit the ball like a hockey player but soon developed a
skill for golf and haven’t played anything else since then.
“In those days, golf
wasn’t a very organised sport. A body called the Pakistan Golf Union
looked after the game. Since I was completely hooked on golf, I started
taking an active interest in developing the course in Lahore. With the
help of General Wasiuddin, we turned the browns into greens.
“Personally, I made
fast progress and my handicap was down to 5 in no time. Later I became
the president of Pakistan Golf Union and tried to lift the sport as much
“Then I went
overseas and my focus was mostly on my profession. I also worked
extensively in Pakistan and there is not a river in our where I didn’t
build a bridge on.
“Later I returned
home and helped form the Sindh Golf Association. We also established an
academy here at the KGC,” he recalls.
Khan was involved in
the successful campaign that helped turn KGC’s ‘chocolate’ course
into a lush green facility within a short span of time.
“I still remember
that there was this huge demand to turn KGC’s chocolate green. But
when we started the job, some people us to laugh at us. However, we did
finish the job and now KGC has one of the best courses in Pakistan.
“I still remember
the times when there used to be snakes in the bushes on the brown
course. Even now there is a lot of wild life all over the KGC course
which is one of my favourite things about it.”
While KGC is now his
favourite haunt, most of Khan’s fond golfing memories took place in
“One fine day while
playing in Lahore, I scored a real ‘birdie’. Actually I killed a
bird with my drive. They have preserved the unfortunate bird at the club
there. Also, there was this exciting match in Lahore with Chaudhry
Nasrullah as my partner. We were up against Khalid Saigol and his
brother and were tied till the last hole. I finally made a long, sloping
putt and the match was won,” he remembers with a smile.
Khan is proud of the
fact that he represented Pakistan on four occasions during an
illustrious golfing career. He captained Pakistan at Kirlosker Trophy
besides featuring in the Ceylon Championship in Colombo. Khan’s two
son — Khurram and Azam — followed in his golfing footsteps to become
good players themselves.
The fact that Pakistan
golf hasn’t really picked up really bothers Khan. ‘There is so much
talent in our country,” he says. ‘But the problem with our players
is that they are not serious enough.”
Khan is particularly
disappointed with Pakistan’s leading professionals. ‘I don’t know
why our professionals can’t be more focused and hard working,” he
says. “There is so much at stake not just in world golf but also in
our own region but unfortunately our professionals have so far failed to
make their presence felt.”
The recently-concluded super-eight T20 cricket tournament in Pakistan and the preceding Bangladesh Premier League were quite reassuring in that they showed that our country has a number of players specially suited for this format.
Shakeel Ansar of Sialkot showed that he can serve the country well if given chances — even at his advanced age of 33. His century in the semifinal must be sufficient to convince selectors that he deserves to have a place in the national team’s T20 squad, particularly because Adnan Akmal and Safaraz are not rapid run-getters.
Shahzaib Hasan’s performance was, as always, cracking. He scored 141 off just 89 balls in Super-Eight and 240 of 183 balls in BPL. One fails to understand why he continues to remain out of Pakistan’s T20 setup. He is a pure T20 player. It is true that he was rather inconsistent when he was given chances, but he needs to be given more opportunities. Inconsistency is not an evil in T20 cricket, but slow scoring is.
Similar is the case of Ahmad Shehzad. He scored 108 off 86 balls at an average of 36 in the Super-Eight and was the most successful batsman in the BPL with 486 runs scored at an average of 48. He should be an ideal opener for our T20 team.
Nasir Jamshed made a comeback to Pakistan’s One-day International squad during the Asia Cup following his scintillating performance in the BPL where he scored 328 off 248 balls. He must also be a part of our T20 World Cup plans.
Imran Nazir has also made a case for his comeback to the national squad as he was the second highest run scorer in the BPL 390 runs at an average of 43. He was also number two in the Super-Eight with 191 runs scored off a mere 111 balls. He is almost a born T20 batsman. His hits can bewilder any bowling squad and change the complexion of the game within a few overs.
Khalid Latif can also be considered for the T20 squad since he was the highest run getter of the Super-Eight with 243 runs that came off just 184 balls.
One might argue that all these batsmen are openers. But the fact is that in this shortest format of the game we can have players in the middle order who open the innings in other formats of the game. In a T20 game, a team doesn’t require the services of players like Misbah-ul-Haq or Asad Shafiq to consolidate its innings. Instead it needs to keep scoring runs quickly even after losing wickets. And for that it is preferable to have players that can hit the ball out of the ground repeatedly. Not ones like Asad Shafiq and Fawad Alam who mostly rely on singles and fours.
Among spinners, Raza Hasan was the most impressive. This young man has all the attributes of a great left-arm spinner. He showed, while bowling the last over in the final, what he is capable of. He picked up four wickets to thwart the effort of Karachi Dolphins to make a bigger total.
Among the pace bowlers, Rana Naveed deserves to get a recall because of his ability to bowl excellently disguised slow balls and fast in-swinging yorkers — both extremely effective weapons in the T20 format. He is also a hard-hitting batsman and can be very helpful in the late order.
In the late 1990s, England began sending specialised Test and one-day teams. This specialisation process has moved forward with the Australian squad of T20, which is almost completely different from the one-day squad.
The ICC World Twenty20 Championship is just around the corner. Our cricket chiefs must emulate the Australians and form a separate team for the T20 assignment. Our selectors have been making a few changes for the T20 matches, but that have proved insufficient. They must be bolder in their approach and consider a bigger overhaul.
Of course, there are a few players who will be there in both one-day and T20 squads such as Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and Umar Akmal. But many others will have to concentrate their attention and energies on the longer formats of the game. Because it’s time to specialise!
A foreign-based Pakistani female swimmer has started enchanting the country’s swimming arena with her impeccable performances. The swimmer, just 15 years old, was introduced on the national circuit last year during an event in Islamabad where she clinched gold medals.
She improved her credentials further when she set ten new national records while representing Army at the 12th National Women’s Junior Age-Group Swimming Championship here at the Karachi Gymkhana recently.
The swimming sensation is Dubai-based Lianna Swan who had by her side her mother Nadia Swan during the event. The girl, full of confidence, wants to win international laurels. Pakistan’s swimming authorities consider her a bright future prospect for the country which is in dire need of swimmers capable of winning gold medals in international events, particularly in the South Asian Games where our female swimmers are yet to win any gold. Lianna is expected to do what Olympian Kiran Khan failed to do.
England-based Anum Bandey, who broke a ten-year-old national record of Mehrunnisa in the 200m breaststroke and also broke Kiran Khan’s 400 Individual Medley record during the World Championship in Shanghai last year, is another future prospect.
Kiran Khan’s younger sister Bismah Khan with eight new records in the under-10 group at the national championship here has also emerged as a future hope.
Experts say that both Lianna Swan and Anum Bandey have bright chances to win gold medals at the South Asian Games which will be hosted by India in New Delhi most probably early next year.
Lianna’s coach Chris Tidey told ‘The News on Sunday’, “Lianna is a good swimmer to work with. She works really hard. I am sure she will do great things for Pakistan’s swimming.”
‘TNS’ recently interviewed Lianna Swan. Excerpts are given below.
TNS: When and where did you start swimming and by whom were you inspired?
Lianna: I have swum for my school from an early age, but I started training properly three years ago, when I joined Hamilton Aquatics in Dubai. My club has some really talented swimmers and one of the older boys, who has been training there for several years, has qualified for the 2012 Olympics. I have been inspired by his success and hard work.
TNS: In how many national and international events have you participated and what have been your achievements?
Lianna: I participated in the Pakistan Open Championships in June 2011 in Islamabad and won four gold medals in 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke and in relay. I also represented Pakistan in the Dubai and then in the Beijing World Cups. When I swim with my club in Dubai, we often swim against other good clubs in the Gulf, such as in Oman and Qatar. In the Gulf competitions, we swim against other girls in the same age group and I am doing well. I have been getting gold, silver or bronze medals, and the competition is really strong.
TNS: What were your performances in the World Cups in Dubai and Beijing?
Lianna: Well, in the World Cup you swim against much older girls and women who are often already world record holders. As I was only 14 years old, I was one of the youngest swimmers. Although I knew that there was no chance of winning any medals in those competitions, my timings were ‘personal best’ and that is important at the moment. It was also a very good learning experience to be able to swim in competitions at that high level and to represent your country.
TNS: What is your dream in life?
Lianna: I would like to become as good a swimmer as I can be, and to swim at the international level. My ultimate dream would be to represent Pakistan at the 2016 Olympics.
TNS: What training facilities do you have in Dubai?
Lianna: We train in both 25m and 50m pools which are outdoors. Luckily for us, the weather in Dubai is quite nice for most of the year.
TNS: How much support do you get from your parents?
Lianna: Well, both my parents have encouraged me. My father has funded everything: trips, competition, suits and travel. My mum is the one who gets up at five in the morning and takes me to the pool and makes sure that I eat properly most of the time. She has never missed a single one of my competitions.
TNS: Anything about your personal life you would like to tell our readers?
Lianna: I was born in Bahrain but at the moment I am living with my parents (Nadia and David) and my brother Matthew in Dubai which is where my dad is working right now. My brother is a really good tennis player and has been playing for many years. Samir Iftikhar, who plays Junior Davis Cup Tennis for Pakistan, stays with us when he has tournaments in Dubai, and Matthew enjoys having a game with him.
Imagine a fast-paced game of hockey being played with a yellow ball on a stunning blue and pink pitch in front of hundreds of cheering fans. To most hockey fans it may sound like a far-fetched idea but this summer there will be plenty of such scenes in London when its hosts Olympic Games 2012 during July-August.
It was last year that the London 2012 Organising Committee unveiled the Olympic Hockey Centre’s first blue and pink turf and revealed that a yellow ball will be used during the hockey competition for the first time in Olympic Games.
London Olympic Park’s Hockey Centre will host over 780,000 spectators during the 2012 Games as well the football events of the Paralympics to be held in the British capital later this summer.
This will be the first time Olympic Hockey and Paralympic Football are played on a different colour pitch to the traditional green. According to the organisers, the move to blue pitches will provide high levels of contrast with the yellow ball and white lines for players, officials, spectators, photographers and broadcasters.
The Hockey Centre is a temporary stadium based at the northern end of the Olympic Park. The complex includes two pitches, one for competition and one for warm up. The main pitch will stage all of the 76 hockey matches which will be spread over 14 days of competition from 29 July to 11 August. There will be over 380 competitors from 24 teams competing in the men’s and women’s competitions.
Pakistan hockey officials, meanwhile, believe that the idea of having the Olympic tournament played with yellow balls and a blue and pink turf will click.
“I think that it is going to work,” says Asif Bajwa, the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) secretary.
“The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has received a very positive feedback from players and officials about it.
“The thing is that using a yellow ball on a blue pitch will add to the visibility both for spectators present at the stadium as well as for fans watching the games on TV sets,” adds Bajwa, a former Olympian.
However, Bajwa’s assessment is purely based on the information he has been receiving from the FIH as Pakistan are yet to install a blue and pink pitch at home. Last year, government authorities had promised to set up a turf similar to the one installed at the London Olympic Hockey Centre several months before the Games begins but have so far failed to do that.
After missing several deadlines, the authorities are now planning to install the turf at Lahore’s National Hockey Stadium by May 15. However, due to the fact that the synthetic turf, which is to be imported from South Korea, is yet to be bought makes it unlikely that the NHS will get it by then. A more realistic target is June 15.
“We will be happy if the turf is ready for action even by June 15,” says Bajwa. “We will be able to hold the last leg of Olympic training camp on a blue turf before sending the national team to London at least 15 days before the Games get underway,” he adds.
But before that, Pakistani players will get their first experience of playing on a blue turf at the Malaysian city Ipoh when they feature in the 2012 edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Pakistan will be among the seven teams competing in the event to be played from May 24-June 3. Other teams taking part in the tournament are top seed Great Britain, South Korea, New Zealand, Argentina, India and hosts Malaysia.
“Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is going to be a very important tournament for us,” says Bajwa. “It will help the players warm up for the Olympics and more importantly will allow the coaches to finalise their combination for London.”
Title predictions are made at the start of every football league season, and over the past few years, the domination shown by some teams has been such that even the pattern of victory can be wagered with a fair amount of certainty. This was particularly evident last year in Italy and Spain, where Milan and Barcelona dominated their nearest competition throughout the season. However, this year, there has been a turnaround, whereby both defending champions have faced a legitimate threat to their crown, and are facing the very real threat of losing it. That said, the usurpers in both leagues are finding it hard to get past the incumbents.
Granted, the Spanish ‘Primera Liga’ is considered a two horse race from the outset, and that too only because of Real Madrid’s recent rise into a viable trophy winning alternative to the behemoth product of the Barcelona youth academy. Last season, Real snatched the Copa del Rey, and it was paraded around, albeit after Ramos literally dropped it under the bus, as the herald of a new era, one where Real would rein in Barcelona’s dominance on the victory stand in Spain and in Europe.
The manner of Real’s performance in the multiple Clasico’s we towards the tail end of the season suggested that although Barcelona were still the stronger side, the balance of power had shifted. So it was that, despite losing La Liga and the Champions League to Barcelona, Real Madrid started this season in a bullish mood.
However, Mourinho appears to have accepted that this Barcelona side is one that simply cannot be beaten, and so, rather than forcing his way past them, he has opted to make way around them. This has manifested in thorough hammering being dealt to the majority of sides over the course of the season, and a decidedly obvious mix of negative football in matches against Barcelona. It is fair to say that the most comforting aspect of Real’s 10 point lead at the top of the Liga table, was that, given Real could maintain their performances in all other matches, the result of the visit to Camp Nou on 25th April could be rendered inconsequential.
The brutality with which Real approached the other teams in the league could not mask the fact that they still lacked the wherewithal to defeat Barcelona, as evidenced by their inability to stem the tide of Barcelona victories this season. Barcelona have come out on top, whether in the league or in two legged ties, such as in the Super Cup and the Copa del Rey. Mourinho’s proposed solution, that strong enough performances against all other teams would mitigate the unavoidable damage from a bout with Barcelona, seemed to be working. Coming into the second half of the season, the safe money was on Real winning the Liga title. This was in part due to the team’s own aura of invincibility, especially at home (again, barring results against Barcelona), and partly due to the generally accepted argument that Jose Mourinho would not let a 10 point lead slip. The fact that Real could not afford anything other than a win in the derby against Atletico Madrid last week only drove home the point that Barcelona have not given up the chase for the title, and that Madrid cannot afford any more loosening of their grip. Barcelona’s title credentials were written off, but the Catalan outfit are in the running again, and they will look ahead to welcoming Real to the Camp Nou for a match that could yet decide the winner of the Liga.
Over in Italy, Juventus and Milan are slugging it out for the Scudetto. The Turin side are looking to win their first non-Calciopoli title since 2004, while Milan, who imperiously romped to the winner’s podium last year, are struggling to even put together a preferred starting 11. One of the key differences between the sides has been their injury record this season, and consequently, team selection. When considering how many individual player choices have been affected by injury, Milan have had almost ten times as many absences as Juventus have had, and this has allowed the latter to establish a regular playing rhythm. Of course, Juventus have also been helped by Pirlo’s arrival from Milan. The midfielder, still considered one of the most gifted deep lying playmakers in the game, has had a season to remember. A better blend of youth and experience than he found at Milan in recent years has allowed Pirlo to play to the best of his considerable abilities, while his old club have had to rely heavily on the form of a now-injured Kevin Prince Boateng to link up the midfield and front line.
Juventus have benefited from the fact that the prime contenders for the Scudetto, namely Milan and Napoli, have been distracted by European football duties, and have not managed to give proper attention to the domestic title. While this argument holds some weight, the fact is that Juventus have expended due effort in the Coppa Italia, making their way past Milan in the semi finals to set up a final with Napoli in May.
Milan had a four point lead over Juventus, but that will seem a distant memory now, as the defending champions last week managed only their first win in five games, with Gattuso returning from injury after half a year. Juventus are at the top of the Serie A table, and although they are undefeated in the league this season, they have not shown the same ability to win matches that Milan has. Milan’s manager is also in a precarious position, with the club owner, former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, publicly disapproving of Milan’s playing style and performance. These various sub plots add a whole lot of spice to an already unpredictable race to the Scudetto. What is certain is that both Juventus and Milan can only aim for winning each of their remaining six matches to ensure winning the title. With only a single point separating them, neither side can afford to concede any ground.
After missing out on the 2008 Games in Beijing, at least one Pakistani boxer was expected to make the cut for London Olympics 2012.
But all hopes were shattered on April 9 when the last of the country’s pugilists exited the Asian Qualifying Round for Olympics in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, failing to win a place at the Games starting from July 27.
Prolific boxer Mohammad Waseem — on whom most hopes had been pinned —Niamatullah, England-based Haider Riaz, Mohammad Nisar and Zulqarnain Abbas were the pugilists who tried their luck in the qualifiers.
While all others lost in their opening bouts, the Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Mohammad Waseem went close to earn a ticket for London Games after beating Zarip Jumayev of Turkmenistan in the prequarter-final. But the Quetta-born boxer, who has been the most successful of the national lot for the last few years, lost to 2009 Milan’s World Championships silver medalist Nyambayar Tugstsogt of Mongolia in the quarter-final.
As four Olympic seats were up for grab for the Asians in the flyweight category, Waseem needed a win in the quarter-final.
Earlier, Mohammad Nisar was thrashed by the 2010 Asian Games gold medalist Birzhan Zhakipov of Kazakhstan in the quarter-final of light flyweight category in which one Olympic seat was available for the continental boxers.
Zulqarnain Abbas lost to the 2011 Incheon Asian Championship bronze medalist Byamba Tuvshinbat from Mongolia in the welterweight quarter-final and 18-year-old Riaz was outclassed by Turkmenistan’s Serdar Hudayberdiyev in his light welterweight category fight in the preliminaries.
The experienced South Asian Games gold medalist Niamatullah also failed to impress when he conceded his bantamweight pre-quarter-final against the 2004 Athens Olympics silver medalist Worapoj Petchkoom of Thailand.
Although, Pakistani boxers were beaten by tough opponents in the continental qualifying round, it is no excuse for the failure, especially for the boxing authorities back home.
Last year, Pakistan had fielded three boxers Mohammad Waseem, Mohammad Hussain and Aamir Khan in the World Championships in Baku, but all of them had fallen in the preliminaries.
Boxing enthusiasts have started recalling, nostalgically, the era of former AIBA and Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) chief Professor Anwar Chowdhry under whose supervision the country’s boxers used to qualify for the Olympic Games and regularly lift medals at the continental level.
The current PBF being run by Doda Khan Bhutto and Mohammad Akram Khan has failed to click and there is a need to form another body under a sincere and professional leadership which can regain the lost glory of the country in the sport.
After Pakistan failed to qualify for the Olympics, the PBF top officials started blaming each other in the media for the failure. The relationship between the PBF president Doda Khan Bhutto and Akram Khan has not been ideal since December last year when they were organising an international event in Islamabad.
Since then they have been seen avoiding each other, and Doda did not contact Akram Khan even when he was admitted here at a local hospital due to lungs infection a few days ago. They should feel that the PBF is not their personal property, but a national body and in case of any failure they both will be accountable to the nation.
They should answer questions now that the country has failed to make a cut for London Games in spite of spending a huge amount of money on the sport during the last few years.
It is time for both of them to resign and give others a chance to put the sport back on track.
There were several other causes of the failure of Pakistani boxers in the Olympic qualifiers in Astana as well.
The PBF ignored the experienced coach Ali Bakhsh during the selection process although he acted as coach during the international event in Islamabad in which Pakistan had fielded around 34 boxers.
Ali Bakhsh had also served as coach during the World Championship in Baku last year and other major international events for the last few years and he knew well who should be selected for the important assignment in Kazakhstan.
The boxers, especially Waseem, could have produced much better performance had Ali Bakhsh been retained as coach as it was under him that Waseem won gold in Islamabad’s international event. It was also strange to include Haider Riaz, an inexperienced boxer, for a crucial affair. There was also no need to send a boxer in the light flyweight category where only one Olympic seat was available for the Asians. They should have sent a boxer in the middle weight category instead where four seats were available.
The pre-competition preparation at the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad was also not up to the mark and no boxer was satisfied with the proceedings. The PBF wanted to send the pugilists to Kazakhstan for a month-long training ahead of the qualifiers, but failed to do so because they had spent a major chunk of the Rs30million grant, released to them by the government, on the international event in the federal capital.
Preparations for Olympics should have been their top priority, but the authorities focused on the international event in Islamabad.