hockey
Spreading hockey
in the land of smiles
A young Pakistani coach, Sameer Hussain, is helping Thailand to make its mark in hockey. He has high hopes from his charges and believes they can shine at the regional stage.
By Khalid Hussain
It was in Sydney in 2000 that I first met Sameer Hussain, one of the youngest hockey players to feature in the Olympic Games. He left a very good first impression.
Sameer was just 18 at that time and was making his bones as a mercurial striker and I remember telling myself after meeting him that this boy certainly has a future in international hockey.

Pakistan cricket's degeneration
By Dr Nauman Niaz
Pakistan cricket has ceased to evolve and unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, since the advent of 2000s barring a few positive interruptions, it has been sliding to extinction. And this degeneration has had a significant influence on the essence of the Pakistani sport, and its configuration as a tool of Pakistaniness and the tail of nationalism that it carried has sternly been injured. Its development is no longer fixed and certain and instead of evolving into a prized product, it has degenerated into an unknown future, possibly a bleak future that trampled the indicators of a progressive positive direction.

Still favourites, still on top
After thrashing India and England and retaining the Champions
Trophy, the Aussies still remain the team to beat
By Waris Ali
The Australians are still the titans, though they are losing the verve and valour they have been known for during the last decade. Though they are indifferent to the Twenty20 version and feel little embarrassed over defeat in the shortest version, they still have been able to keep their champions status during the current year. The departure of cricketers like Gilchrist and Hayden has definitely dented the strength of the Aussies, they are, however, strongly expected to restore their image. The recent thrashing of India in the 7-ODI series, followed by their successful defence of the Champions Trophy and scalping of England in the ODI series in September speaks volumes in favour of this conclusion.

Manchester United's
love affair with 'No 7'
Is Michael Owen justifying the 'Number 7' jersey at Old Trafford?
By Umaid Wasim

Manchester United has had great players come and go. Sir Bobby Charlton, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane just to name a few. However, none of those players wore the No 7 shirt. A coveted number indeed in the game of 'lucky sevens' but for Manchester United, this number means a lot more. The number is reserved for the Red Devils' marquee player -- the best of the best in their ranks; the player who drives United forward on the field of play. The trend started in the 1960s with George Best wearing the No 7 jersey.

Walking the revolutionary road
By Abdul Ahad Farshori
The days when South Asian countries -- Pakistan and India -- dominated the international hockey stage may seem to have been long gone, but a resurgent Pakistan hockey team is, maybe, all set to change the beliefs once again.
There was a time when Pakistan along with India used to dominate the World Cup and Olympic Games and the Europeans would lag behind and kept changing the rules to facilitate their own teams.

Sami's best days seem to be somewhere in the future
By Khurram Mahmood
Pakistan cricket has the pride of producing world-class fast bowlers regularly from its inaugural Test against India in 1952. From Fazal Mahmood to Muhammad Aamer there is long list of outstanding pacers.
Deadly fast bowling by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis became a part of history and there seems to be no future for Shoaib Akhtar, as Pakistan currently finds itself settling to put together a balanced pace attack. In shape of Umar Gul, Muhammad Asif and Muhammad Aamer the national side have a good talented fast bowling trio.

 

 

 

hockey
Spreading hockey
in the land of smiles

By Khalid Hussain

It was in Sydney in 2000 that I first met Sameer Hussain, one of the youngest hockey players to feature in the Olympic Games. He left a very good first impression.

Sameer was just 18 at that time and was making his bones as a mercurial striker and I remember telling myself after meeting him that this boy certainly has a future in international hockey.

Sameer did well in Sydney though Pakistan went on to suffer a disappointing 0-1 defeat against Korea in the Olympic Games semifinals after having enjoyed an unbeaten run in the pool stages of the competition in which they surprised the pundits by stunning Netherlands and bamboozling England in a huge win. The Dutch went on to win the Olympic title but Pakistan had to return home empty-handed after losing to hosts Australia in the playoff for the bronze.

Sameer went on to play for five more years for Pakistan but in the end his career got over at a young age of 24 when injuries and a lack of trust shown in his abilities by national coaches forced him to shift his focus away from hockey.

But hockey remained close to his heart. It was last spring when he finally found a way to make a 'comeback' to international hockey.

While surfing on the net, the Karachi-based Sameer found an advertisement posted by the Hockey Association of Thailand (HAT), which was looking for coaches for its men's, women's and junior national teams.

In what was a whimsical move, Sameer applied for the job and was duly short-listed for a vacancy in HAT's youth development programme. His credentials were really impressive. He had played hockey at the highest level and was a former Olympian. Sameer was also selected for the Asian All Star Teams on two occasions and received the Youth Leadership Award from the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in Amsterdam.

Sameer, 28, got the job but that time HAT already had two more coaches -- from Australia and Argentina. Sameer had to initially take the back seat. But in what is seen as a huge achievement in Thailand, Sameer became instrumental in helping Thailand's women's team to reach the final of SEA Cup in Bangkok for the first time in eight years. The hosts lost 1-2 to Malaysia in the final but the young man from Pakistan had made his presence felt.

Sameer was duly elevated and is now serving as the head coach for both of Thailand's men's and women's hockey team besides holding the portfolio of Director Youth Development.

"It's been a great six months," Sameer told 'The News on Sunday' in an interview. "I never knew that coaching could be so satisfying. I mean, you feel really happy and proud when your players start doing well under your coaching," he added.

It was HAT chief Chaiyapak Siriwat, who has been backing Sameer all along since he took up the job in Thailand last June. "Mr Siriwat wants to transform hockey in Thailand and bring it at par with other countries of the region," said Sameer.

It is difficult to comprehend that Thailand can shine on the international hockey stage but Sameer says it is not impossible.

"Hockey may not be a big sport in Thailand but it is certainly growing," he said. "There are several departmental teams there and around 25-20 clubs, who actively compete in tournament."

In all, there are about 600 active hockey players in Thailand, which is more famous for its kickboxing and has produced world class players in tennis.

"Thailand will be launching a couple of hockey academies next month. It will be hosting a few regional events next year. Things are certainly going up for hockey there."

Among Sameer's assignments is the Asian Games Women's Qualifiers to be held in Bangkok next May. Pakistan will be among one of the competing teams in the tournament.

"We (Thailand) have a very good chance to qualify for the Asian Games," he said.

He will also be looking after the preparations for the Men's Qualifiers for the Asian Games which will be held in Dhaka next April.

Sameer is well aware of the fact that for whatever reasons, he was unable to translate his potential into success as an international player. But at a very early age, he has been given a perfect second chance to make it big on the world hockey stage --as a coach.

"I'm a good learner," he said. "It is always helpful to be a keen follower of the game and it is helping me learn something new with every match."

Sameer said that after having initially considered the idea of joining his family business, he has made up his mind to pursue a career as a hockey coach.

Does he fancy his chances of working as a coach in Pakistan?

"It would be great to work as a coach in Pakistan," he said. "But currently I have a two-year contract with Thailand and am looking forward to completing it," he said.

Sameer said that he has started attending international coaching courses and will continue doing that whenever possible.

"There is nothing like hard work," he said. "I believe that I can go on to become a good coach but there are no shortcuts to do that. I will need the right kind of experience and qualification to achieve my task which is to be a top class coach."

The youngster I met in Sydney has certainly matured over the years. And while he was unable to live up to my expectations as a player, it seems that he will go on to succeed as an international coach.

Pakistan cricket has ceased to evolve and unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, since the advent of 2000s barring a few positive interruptions, it has been sliding to extinction. And this degeneration has had a significant influence on the essence of the Pakistani sport, and its configuration as a tool of Pakistaniness and the tail of nationalism that it carried has sternly been injured. Its development is no longer fixed and certain and instead of evolving into a prized product, it has degenerated into an unknown future, possibly a bleak future that trampled the indicators of a progressive positive direction.

This degeneration of cricket as a product presents a pessimistic outlook for the future of a game that once provided the springboard to a disenchanted people wrecked by inflation, growing environmental insecurity and dearth of opportunities of education and work. It was a symbol of an unadulterated nationalism.

Ironically various managements, past and present and specifically the previous and the incumbent regime have defined degeneration as a theory of nature and they have often attempted to incorrectly argue that cricket has degenerated becoming sterile, weaker, or small due to the geopolitical uncertainty and because of the growing apathy of the boys to turn to the first class game. It is just an excuse. Truthfully people like Dr Nasim Ashraf and even Mr Ijaz Butt have deliberately or unintentionally created a class of degenerate people attacking the social and work norms of the management, and their inept governance has led to the deterioration of the Pakistan team almost degenerating and stumbling out of existence without the assistance of policy identification.

Pakistan team has stopped producing stars and despite their heartening starts, it would be blasphemous to term Mohammad Aamer and Umar Akmal as the star cast. They have to stick in and develop into celebrated products before being labelled as continuation of Wasim Akram or Inzamam Ul Haq's legacies. It would really be tough for them, as it could be argued more vigorously that the top-tier of the PCB and the place itself is degenerating, going backwards in terms of evolution and development so each generation is going to be weaker and weaker. And it seems, the new players with rare exceptions are actually inheriting mediocrity. Instead of regaining consciousness, people like Butt are seemingly living in a state of denial, not eager to accept that the indentation where the spine meets the neck in his work system is a signal of disintegration and subsequent ineffectiveness.

Disappointingly, Butt instead of giving a vision of development of cricket and its various tiers tried giving a justification for various eugenic programs and decisions taken. And the eugenicists adopted the concept, using it to justify sterilization of the supposedly unfit. And they didn't realize that like the mediocrity erupting in the cricket team and its inherent unpredictability, even in the management tiers these eugenic efforts were exterminating competence, for those who would corrupt future generations.

Pakistan's recent performance in New Zealand and the desperation of the PCB, their Chief Operating Officer being apologetic to India's Indian Premier League hierarchy showed how complacently infertile the management had become. Cricket's collapse broadly includes both quite abrupt decision making failures typify the more extended grinding decline of the system. It has become defunct and ignominiously extinct. In these difficult times, when their main product has been shorn of its grace and flavour, and their ideology is largely frazzling due to the superimposed perplexity and thoughtlessness; in the 1990s there were problems, the great irony expressed by people like Arif Ali Khan Abbasi and others like him was that cricket management teams were ideally designed to creatively solve problems and help the game flourish and develop subsequently Ad-hoc committees and people like Shaharyar M Khan, Dr Nasim Ashraf and Ijaz Butt let the balance go out of hand so self-destructively.

What distinguishes these more dramatic failures of these people, seeming to deserve the term 'collapse', from less dramatic long term decline is widely agreed on. And it seems if the current regime is allowed to stay, the decline in other major characteristics of cricket management and development as a breeding place would generally become permanent. The coupled breakdown of economic, cultural, social and developmental failure with ecological relationships is perhaps the most common feature of split up.

Although an imminent collapse is generally an endpoint for that form of administering cricket, and it can be as another kind of change of administration which should now not be delayed. Butt's regime seemingly has outlived his time as Chairman of the PCB. Now, what is needed is a process of decentralisation and not really a new constitution because classically his period has been of centralised governance, though he didn't really use it dynamically resulting in diminishing of his authority.

Pakistan cricket's disintegration has certainly not been a benign process, but remnants may linger long after the high culture of cricket has vanished. And the regimes such as of Dr Ashraf and Ijaz Butt have tried controlling the game and its integral components behaving as exploitative elites. Time has come, that Butt is removed and someone with a real insight of development of cricket, both domestically and externally, interprets the real ills like sedentary status quo as symptomatic of cricket's decay and links what appear to be ineptness, inability and ineptitude with the depletion of important non-renewable resources. And he also determines that complacency both in management and player development has been the cause of the Pakistan cricket's present mess. And also, at the same time he must contemplate that development of the main product has to be in different tiers, and the exceptional productivity (as in case of Australia) is actually more the sign of hidden weakness, both because of our great dependence on it, and its potential to undermine its own basis for success by not being self-limiting as demonstrated in West's culture's ideal of perpetual growth.

In Pakistan as cricket grows, if it ever does, the technology would make it easier to exploit depleting resources, game's diminishing returns are hidden from view. Its complexity is then potentially threatened if it develops beyond what is actually sustainable (this factor India needs to realize), and a disorderly re-organization could follow. That is the collapse where a product grows without limit and resources and vice versa in Pakistan the liabilities and incompetent management teams have triggered the extinction of cricket.

Largely due to reactionaries such as Dr Ashraf and Mr Butt, their periods of non-productivity have occurred in complex forms in real collapses. The growing conflict between power-share of the players and the authoritative runs of PCB's top-tier is visible in the recent major failure of the game in the country.

Did ever Ijaz Butt try figuring out the factors leading to cricket's collapse? He didn't because living in a state of denial he seemingly lost touch with the reality. Pakistan cricket has collapsed due to a) Destratification b) Centralization and concentration of power c) Over-employment d) Despecialization e) Lack of Vision and f) Apathy to development.

Observing, though from a distance, Butt hasn't been able to gauge the requirements of top-tier management and quite evidently, in a broad set his radical decision making depicted extreme actions and emotions including self-harm. One example was regarding his inability or abstinence to take the IPL management to task for their trickery and arrogance. There had to be someone from the PCB required to stand up to the BCCI asking for their due share being an essential cog in the wheel of world cricket.

It is time that the Pakistani game is given due respect. The PCB needs to re-organise and promote the needs and goals of cricket management and to foster a propitious environment to develop future products for the national team.

 

Still favourites, still on top

The Australians are still the titans, though they are losing the verve and valour they have been known for during the last decade. Though they are indifferent to the Twenty20 version and feel little embarrassed over defeat in the shortest version, they still have been able to keep their champions status during the current year. The departure of cricketers like Gilchrist and Hayden has definitely dented the strength of the Aussies, they are, however, strongly expected to restore their image. The recent thrashing of India in the 7-ODI series, followed by their successful defence of the Champions Trophy and scalping of England in the ODI series in September speaks volumes in favour of this conclusion.

They also proved unbeatable in the current three-Test series against the West Indies after their 1-0 lead had made them immune to defeat in Test series. The first Test played in Brisbane proved a huge victory of the hosts when the Gayle-led West Indies failed to meet the target of 480 runs in both the innings jointly.

The Australians' visit to India for the 7-ODI series did not make headlines, as had been the case with any previous series between the two teams. The tourists decisively won the series 4-2, leaving the last fixture just of academic interest which had to be abandoned without a ball being bowled because of rain. The October 25-November 11 tour passed without giving rise to any controversial issue. While India won two matches by a massive margin, the Aussies, however, succeeded to snatch the series with two narrow wins.

Two years back in October 2007, the tourists had scalped India 4-2 in a similar seven-ODI series.

In fact, the history of Australia-India series in either of the countries is blotted by indecent examples of bad behavior and conflicts. But this series passed unnoticed for its being smooth and quick running. A few among the previous examples of misdemeanours and bad tempers include Sreesanth's in-your-face antics, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh's racial abuse to Australia all-rounder Andrew Symonds and then BCCI's threat to derail the $43.5million series, Australian spinner Brad Hogg's offensive remark to Indian captain Anil Kumble and vice-captain MS Dhoni, and veteran cricket umpire Steve Bucknor's untimely exit after harsh Indian criticism over his several 'controversial' decisions.

Only two months back, the Champions Trophy, painted the picture of the defending champions as unconquerable; they played five matches and lost none of them, however their match against India was washed out by rain when they were 234-4 in 43rd over. Their four victories against West Indies, Pakistan, England and New Zealand were wonderful; the first by a margin of 50 runs, while in three next ones they achieved the target in 50th, 42nd and 46th over. Their narrow victory against Pakistan was perhaps because of their little interest in the victory, because it was of little consequence for them; they had already qualified for the semifinal match.

Only a month earlier in September, the world champions thrashed hosts England 6-1 in the 7-ODI series and recaptured their lost number one ranking in one-day cricket. Five of the six victories were worked out by the Aussies by a wide margin, while the only defeat was a result of certain key players being absent in the last meaningless match.

Aussies' poor performance in Twenty20 matches, and hence in the Twenty20 Championship, is now an accepted fact; they are poor performers in the shortest version, which is now ruled by Pakistan. The ICC Twenty20 World Cup failed to give a performance which may be considered to be at par with their status of being the world champions. They could play only two matches in the tournament and lost both, failing to reach the Super Eights stage. Before the start of the second Twenty20 World Cup on June 5 2009, Australia had played 21 Twenty20 matches during last four years and could win only 11 of them, i.e. little more than 50 percent; which is a very poor performance in view of the cricket champions' skill, professionalism and continued hold over the game since 1999 World Cup tournament.

On the Twenty20 front, Australia have been very poor since the very beginning in 2005 when the shortest cricket edition was officially inducted by the International Cricket Council. Among the 10 regular ICC member teams, Australia lies fifth in the ranking.

When the South African cricket team visited Australia in December 2008 for a 50-day long tour, they won the Twenty20 series 2-0 before in the reciprocal tour of South Africa, the Aussies were thrashed in both Twenty20 matches.

And when paceman Umar Gul recorded the second-best figures in Twenty20 cricket to help fire Pakistan to a seven-wicket win over Australia, despite losing ODI series, it startled me with an analysis that the Aussies were losing fighters on the Twenty20 battleground. The 25-year-old fast bowler took 4-8 in his four-over spell, combining with leg-spinner Shahid Afridi (3-14) to restrict Australia to a modest 108 in 19.5 overs.

 

 

 

Manchester United's
love affair with 'No 7'

Manchester United has had great players come and go. Sir Bobby Charlton, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane just to name a few. However, none of those players wore the No 7 shirt. A coveted number indeed in the game of 'lucky sevens' but for Manchester United, this number means a lot more. The number is reserved for the Red Devils' marquee player -- the best of the best in their ranks; the player who drives United forward on the field of play. The trend started in the 1960s with George Best wearing the No 7 jersey.

In his native Northern Ireland, the admiration for Best is summed up by the local saying "Maradona good, Pele better, George Best". Undoubtedly, one of the most exciting players in United history, Best made his Red Devil's debut in 1963, at the age of 17.

He won one league title and one European Cup with Manchester United before leaving in 1974, at the age of 27. In all, Best recorded 466 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions from 1963 to 1974, and scored 178 goals. He was a winger whose game combined pace, acceleration, balance, two-footedness, goal-scoring and the ability to beat defenders.

He was one of the first celebrity footballers, but his extravagant lifestyle led to problems with alcoholism which curtailed his playing career and eventually led to his death in November 2005 at the age of 59.

An extravagant lifestyle is key for United's number 7 but Bryan Robson did not have that, and yet he was United's second greatest number 7; mainly because of his winning attitude.

In 1981, Robson went to Old Trafford with then a British transfer fee record of 1.5 million pounds. When asked why he moved to United, he said: "Money wasn't my main motivation. I simply wanted to be a winner."

And a winner he was. He was soon made captain of United and won his first trophy in 1984, when he scored two goals against Brighton to help United win the FA Cup. In the 1990-1991 season, he became the first United captain to win the FA Cup three times. He also won the FA Premiership twice.

His stay at United was not to last though. Despite being the longest serving captain for the club, he moved to Middlesbrough in 1994 where he stayed till his retirement in 1996.From After George Best and Bryan Robson had left their mark on the number 7 jersey at Old Trafford, this famous jersey was given to Eric Cantona.

Known as King Eric and famous for putting up his jersey collar, he is probably the most controversial player to wear the No 7 jersey.

Cantona joined Manchester United from Leeds in 1992, after they had finished 17th of 22 in the newly formed Premier League. Up to that point of the season, United was having a hard time scoring. When that changed as Cantona not only scored goals but allowed space for others to score as well.

In 1994, Cantona was named PFA Player of the Year and won the FA Cup over Chelsea. However, perhaps his most famous time at United didn't deal with scoring a goal at all. During a match against Crystal Palace in 1995, Cantona got sent off for kicking a player out of vengence. As he left the pitch, he stormed at a Palace fan and kung-fu kicked him.

He ultimately got sentenced 120 hours of community service and a nine-month ban from football. When he came back in 1995, he looked rusty; but soon he was back to his old self and helped United win the FA Cup against Liverpool. He became the first foreign-born captain to win the Cup. He retired in 1997, after four English Premiership titles in five years, including two league and FA Cup doubles; he also scored 64 goals in 144 appearances.

Cantona is often regarded as having played a major talismanic role in the revival of Manchester United as a footballing powerhouse and he enjoys iconic status at the club and in English football. In 2001, he was voted as Manchester United's player of the century.

As King Eric's career was coming to a close, another United player was just beginning. Enter David Beckham. Destined for greatness, David Beckham did to the football world that no one else could do. The biggest celebrity footballer in the World, David Beckham has no parallel. From endorsements, sponsorships and branding, he is the most glamourous footballer to have graced the beautiful game. It is due to Beckham that United enjoy the largest fan base in the world.

In 1996, Becks became a household name when he scored a miracle goal from halfway line as United beat Wimbledon 3-0. When Eric Cantona left in 1997, Becks took the No 7 jersey.

Beckham's biggest year came in 1999, when he was part of the squad that won the Treble - the Champions League, the FA Cup, and the Premier League. During his stay at United, Becks scored 62 goals in 265 appearances.

In 2003, Beckham's relationship with Manchester United deteriorated as he increasingly stayed on the bench. Beckham's star appeal did not go down well with manager Sir Alex Ferguson who wanted Becks to be more on the pitch rather than off it. Eventually, he transferred to Real Madrid at the end of the season but not before giving his new owners a real scare.

Champions League quarter-final, Manchester United against Real Madrid, 23 April 2003: Real Madrid lead United 6-3 on aggregate at Old Trafford. Real had won the first-leg 3-1 at home and were leading the Red Devils 3-2 after a hat-trick by Brazilian ace Ronaldo. Beckham came on as a substitute and gave United victory on the night with a trademark free-kick and another more scrambled effort as Real Madrid faced a nail-biting finish in one of Champions League's most memorable games to reach the semis.

With Beckham leaving United, Cristiano Ronaldo came to the fore.

In the first season with Manchester United, he scored six goals in 40 appearances. However, he quickly improved and scored an astonishing 42 goals in 48 appearances in the 2007-2008 season.

He led United's revival; especially after a hapless United were knocked out of the Champions League group stage in 2006. With United, Ronaldo won every piece of silverware possible - the FA Cup in 2004, the League Cup in 2006, the Community Shield in 2007, the Premiership in 2007 and 2008, and the Champions League in 2008. He has been awarded numerous individual awards, including the PFA Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year in 2008.

As Ronaldo left United this summer for a record transfer to Real Madrid, the onus was on United to replace him with another top-class player. However, a surprise move for Michael Owen was sealed and since then the England striker has been given the great number 7 jersey at Old Trafford.

Once a favourite at Anfield, the home of United's greatest rivals Liverpool, Owen is not the flashiest player who is associated with the number 7 jersey. In his hey-day, he could have been that for United but at this time of his career, he cannot justify the tag of being United's main player. Even more so, Owen has not got enough pitch time since the move and is mostly used as backup to Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov. Even though he recently scored a hat-trick in the Champions League against Wolfsburg, he cannot make the starting line-up for Manchester United on a regular basis.

At present, a replacement for Ronaldo could be Atletico Madrid's Kun Aguero, Valencia's David Villa and David Silva, Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteigger. With the January transfer window opening up in a couple of weeks' time, watch the space as United would try and possibly do justice to their love affair with 'Number 7'.

 

Walking the revolutionary road

The days when South Asian countries -- Pakistan and India -- dominated the international hockey stage may seem to have been long gone, but a resurgent Pakistan hockey team is, maybe, all set to change the beliefs once again.

There was a time when Pakistan along with India used to dominate the World Cup and Olympic Games and the Europeans would lag behind and kept changing the rules to facilitate their own teams.

But the downfall of our national game can only, for sure, be owed to sheer negligence of the authorities concerned.

The governing body of hockey in the country, Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) kept changing coach after coach and manager after manager, but to no avail. These actions, politically motivated, completely destroyed the game of hockey and took away whatever little following the game had left.

Now, after a complete overhaul of the PHF, we have finally managed to find a combination that is more promising than the ones that disappointed over the last few years.

Pakistan, who last won an Olympic title in 1984, flopped miserably in the 2008 Games in Beijing, finishing eighth in the event.

It was a debacle which caused many heads to roll within the PHF and the first ones to go were Khawaja Zakauddin and Naveed Alam, followed by secretary Khalid Mahmood. Then the selectors quit their posts. Even the marketing and media directors resigned but the ringmaster Jamali apologised for the debacle and stayed on. It was not until a batch of former Olympians and the ladies of the Women's Wing launched a fierce campaign against him that Jamali finally called it a day, on October 13.

The three-day Hamburg Masters that followed a couple of months after the Olympics saw Pakistan getting a new captain -- Shakeel Abbasi. Several players from the Beijing squad were rested in favour of young boys from the junior squad. The three matches played by Pakistan in the single-league event resulted in one win (against Belgium), one draw (against Malaysia) and one loss (against Olympic champions Germany).

Meanwhile, Asif Bajwa, the PHF secretary, unveiled his four-year mega plan for the promotion of hockey. He announced the setting up of grooming centres and academies, spoke of involving school and clubs in a proper league system, of junior tournaments, training of coaches and umpires while promising to take Pakistan hockey from strength to strength.

On October 15, former Olympian Qasim Zia took over as the 23rd PHF president. Further changes included hockey legend Hasan Sardar taking over as chief selector with Farhat Khan, Rana Mujahid, Mohammad Shafique and Khalid Bashir serving as the members of the selection committee.

But the national team's management was announced much later. Olympian Ayaz Mahmood was named as chief coach with Mohammad Shahbaz Jr and Kamran Ashraf as assistant coaches. In December, the PHF also hired a Dutch hockey consultant, Wouter Tazelaar, for two years to supervise work at the hockey academies.

A promising show was put up by the Greensticks in the eighth Asia Cup held last May. Pakistan beat arch-rivals India and ousted hosts Malaysia in the semifinal. They went on to lose the cup to South Korea 1-0. But altogether it was a promising display from the national team.

The loss meant that Pakistan now had to go through to the qualifiers to confirm their place in the 2010 World Cup in India.

The gamble that the PHF in announcing the team for the Asian event by including senior players in the team went in their favour -- especially with goalkeeper Salman Akbar performing impressively.

Pakistan entered the World Cup Qualifiers as the top-ranked team and maintained the status by winning the tournament.

Sohail Abbas, who recently completed his 300 goals, was the highest goal-scorer of the tournament with 9 goals. The 34-year-old regained his lost form at the right place at the right time as he converted nine short-corners and had the major share in the total 25 goals scored by Pakistan.

Enroute to confirming their place for the World Cup, by winning the tournament, Greensticks defeated Japan 6-1, Italy (5-0), Russia (5-0) and France (4-2) before losing to Poland (3-2). They beat Japan in the final 3-1.

The performances of strikers Rehan Butt (four goals), Haseem Khan (three) and Mohammad Zubair (three) was another good sign as all of them made their presence felt, but the real task is less than three months away and the team expects more from all four of them and the others, too, for the World Cup in India where top countries like Australia, Holland, Germany, Spain and England will be battling it out for the won the U18 Asia Cup by ousting Malaysia 4-3 in the final. The Pakistan U18 squad remained unbeaten in the 12-day tournament ending a two-decade title drought at Asian level in the process.

It is to be noted here that the U18 Asia Cup was also a qualifying event for the inaugural Summer Youth Olympic Games which are scheduled to be staged in Singapore from August 14 to 26, 2010.

Pakistan netted 27 goals (Tauseeq 5 goals, Arsalan Qadir, Javed Ali, Adnan 3 each, Mushtaq, Rana Omair, Bilal Qadir, Khurram Shahzad, Rizwan 2 each) in five matches and conceded only nine goals.

Participation in the Champions Challenge-I in Salta, Argentina, turned out to be a better opportunity for the management to assess the team's strength before competing in the World Cup.

In Argentina, Pakistan vied against teams such as Canada (which they beat 2-1), Argentina (Greensticks lost 3-1), South Africa (they won 4-1), India (which they demolished 6-3 in the semifinal) and New Zealand (played them in the final and lost 2-4).

Pakistan lost the final to Kiwis in the last five minutes of the match.

The defeat dashed Greenshirts' hopes to qualify for next year's Champions Trophy. In fact, Pakistan failed to break the Kiwis' winning streak against them after going down 2-1 to them in the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament last April.

Zeeshan Ashraf said after the finale that poor goalkeeping let them down and was one of the biggest reasons for their loss. Poor finishing is also to be blamed for the loss as Pakistan only converted one of its eight short-corners.

For the colts, its all eyes on the Youth Olympics for which the management has said to have laid out a strenuous plan.

For now, we have in our armoury the likes of Sohail Abbas, the world beater, the short corner specialist, the back bone of our defence and the top scorer of the World Cup qualifying rounds; Rehan Butt; Zeshan Ashraf, the captain of the side; Muhammad Imran and Shakeel Abbasi.

Second place may not be enough for some people, but as a team we became stronger and once again the experience to play the final will help us in future. Now, there is no hockey for next three weeks and then training matches against the Netherlands in Doha as preparation to the World Cup.

 

Sami's best days seem to be somewhere in the future

Pakistan cricket has the pride of producing world-class fast bowlers regularly from its inaugural Test against India in 1952. From Fazal Mahmood to Muhammad Aamer there is long list of outstanding pacers.

Deadly fast bowling by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis became a part of history and there seems to be no future for Shoaib Akhtar, as Pakistan currently finds itself settling to put together a balanced pace attack. In shape of Umar Gul, Muhammad Asif and Muhammad Aamer the national side have a good talented fast bowling trio.

After completion of the New Zealand Test series, on the request of skipper Muhammad Yousuf, PCB surprisingly called fast bowler Muhammad Sami for the tough Australian tour.

Pakistan now have four fast bowlers in their squad for three Tests, five One-day Internationals and a Twenty20 match against the Aussies. The first Test starts on 26th December in Melbourne. In presence of Asif, Aamer and Umar it looks difficult for Sami to get a chance in final XI. But as the skipper not satisfied with Umar Gul's performance, Sami might take his place if required.

Muhammad Sami, 28, played the last Test for Pakistan in December 2007 against India in Bangalore. Later the PCB banned him after joining the unofficial Indian Cricket League (ICL). However, the PCB pardoned him earlier this year after he terminated his contract with the ICL.

He would be the sixth player from the ICL to return to the National team fold after Mohammad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, Imran Nazir, Rana Naved and Imran Farhat.

Sami, the right-arm paceman from Karachi, made his Test debut along with batsmen Faisal Iqbal, Imran Farhat, and Misbah-ul-Haq against New Zealand at Auckland in 2000-01. On his debut, Sami rattled the Kiwis with his speed and swing and received the Man-of-the-Match award for his figures of 8-106. In only his third Test, he also notched a hat-trick against Sri Lanka in the Asian Test Championship final.

Sami has earned a recall after good performances in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Captaining Karachi Blues, Sami has bowled impressively in major domestic first-class tournament helping his team to reach the final.

Sami has taken 81 wickets in 33 Tests, and 118 in 83 One-day internationals. So far against Australia, he has played 4 Tests in which he has taken only 5 wickets at a high average of 78.33.

Overall, Sami's Test record has not been very impressive. Unfortunately his figures do not reflect his true class. Despite having good pace and a very smooth run-up and action he has not been able to deliver on the field. Just 81 wickets in 33 Tests at an astronomical average of 51.37 make him one of the costliest pacers in the world. His strike rate of over 86 balls per wicket, too, is very high.

With genuine pace, a smooth action, and good control, Sami bowls with surprising speed, consistently touching the 90mph mark. He has also mastered traditional outswing and yorker-length reverse-swing.

Concerned about the inconsistent form of Sami, the Pakistan Cricket Board asked veterans Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Aaqib Javed to hold special 'build-up' sessions with him before the historical Indian tour to Pakistan in 2006-07. But the tips and advices remained ineffective and his performance became the cause of concern for the captain and the coach. In the three-Test series against India, he took just seven wickets with a high average of 62.14 and his best innings bowling figures were 2-92.

According to former captain Imran Khan, Sami tries very hard to take a wicket on every ball he bowls and this is not helping him and would affect him in the long run.

He just needs the confidence and guidance to get back his form. The most important tour of Australia is ahead and Australian pitches are well-known to support the fast bowlers and it can be helpful for Sami if he concentrates on the right line and length instead of pace. Bowling coach Waqar Younis is there to guide him and other fast bowlers and if the Pakistan batting survive, Pakistan can surprise Aussies on their soil.

 

Mohammad Sami Test Career

                Mat                Inns                Runs                Wkts                BBI                BBM                Avg                Econ                SR                5W                10W

 

Overall   33                60                4161                81                5-36                8-106                51.37                3.57                86.2                2                0

               

v Australia                4                7                470                6                3-104                4-159                78.33                3.85                121.8                0                0

v England                6                11                738                15                3-100                5-235                49.20                3.81                77.4                0                0

v India    10                17                1470                21                3-82                5-190                70.00                3.67                114.2                0                0

v New Zealand                4                8                491                14                5-36                8-106                35.07                2.87                73.1                2                0

v South Africa                5                9                550                9                3-92                3-128                61.11                4.02                91.0                0                0

v Sri Lanka                2                4                254                9                4-71                5-135                28.22                3.45                49.0                0                0

v Zimbabawe                2                4                188                7                4-53                5-103                26.85                2.76                58.2                0                0

 

 

 



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