Hockey’s shattered hopes
After his charges cruised to back-to-back series triumphs
against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Mohsin Khan is asking
for a long-term stint as Pakistan coach
By Khalid Hussain
When Mohsin Hasan Khan
left his job as Pakistan’s chief selector to serve as national
team’s coach ahead of the ‘home’ series against Sri Lanka in the
UAE earlier this season, many saw it as a bad move by the Pakistan
Cricket Board (PCB).
rejected him as a has-been Test cricketer with little or no credentials
as an international coach. Some even questioned his work ethic, arguing
whether he was up to a job that demanded the sort of hard work and
commitment that can only come from a task master like Australia’s Dave
Whatmore, widely regarded as PCB’s number one choice to become the
next Pakistan coach.
At the time of his
appointment as Pakistan’s interim coach, Mohsin was merely seen as a
compromise choice, who was given the important job on a temporary basis
after a coach-hunting committee appointed by the PCB failed to rope in a
candidate good enough to put Pakistan’s under-achieving team back on
But within a span of a
few weeks, the 56-year-old Mohsin has emerged from a short-term solution
to Pakistan’s coaching needs to one of the top candidates for the job
of the country’s permanent head coach.
With Mohsin as coach,
Pakistan trounced better-ranked Sri Lanka in all three formats of the
game in the United Arab Emirates. Just days after conquering Sri Lanka,
Pakistan landed in Bangladesh and carried on from where they left in the
UAE. They have won all their matches quite convincingly with the second
and final Test against Bangladesh still under progress in Dhaka.
Whether Mohsin has
played a major part in Pakistan’s accent as a match-winning unit might
be debatable. After all, Pakistan were showing signs of improvement
under Waqar Younis, the former Pakistan Test pacer who stepped down as
Pakistan’s coach ahead of the series against Sri Lanka due to health
There is also this
reasonable argument that under Mohsin Pakistan are yet to come across a
Led by Tillakaratne
Dilshan, Sri Lanka are hardly a tough team to beat without Muttiah
Muralitharan and minus the sort of spirit that transformed the islanders
into world beaters under the leadership of Mahela Jayawardene and later
Bangladesh, too, are
easy opponents even in their own backyard. Playing against them seems
like a piece of cake when compared to Pakistan’s next assignment — a
‘home’ series against England in the UAE early next year.
But all said and done,
Mohsin deserves accolades for getting the best out of his team. During
his stint as Pakistan’s coach, the boys have appeared to be really
focused in all three formats of the game. Perhaps, more importantly,
they have appeared to be enjoying themselves on the field and that’s a
significant development for a side like Pakistan that is known for its
And now that the man
is asking for a long-term assignment, then the people at the helm of
affairs should take him seriously.
“We have done a good
job so far, haven’t we,” Mohsin asked me during a telephonic
conversation, a day before the second and final Test against Bangladesh
go underway in Dhaka the other day.
“Our team is playing
like a team. The captain is doing a good job. The seniors are playing a
huge role and the youngsters are responding well,” said Mohsin.
revealed that when he took up the assignment last fall, he wasn’t sure
about doing the job on a long-term basis. “But the way my boys have
responded to my coaching has really motivated me to think about staying
on as their coach for a longer stint,” he stressed.
So has he talked to
the Board about the possibility of a long-term contract yet?
“I haven’t had any
formal talks so far,” said Mohsin. “But during the series against
Sri Lanka in the UAE, I was told by the PCB chairman (Zaka Ashraf) that
the Board is very happy with my performance and would like me to
continue as coach.
“Initially, I was
reluctant about going to Bangladesh but the chairman’s encouragement
helped me change my mind.”
Mohsin said that after
meeting Ashraf, he got serious about getting into a long-term
arrangement as Pakistan coach. “I believe that in that role (as
national coach) I can play my role in the betterment of our cricket.”
However, in spite of
the success the team has achieved under Mohsin, he is not believed to be
PCB’s number one choice as Pakistan’s long-term coach. It is widely
believed that Whatmore remains at the top of PCB’s wish-list. For
Mohsin, the Board might reserve the post of batting coach. However,
Mohsin is unlikely to accept what he believes would be a demotion.
Mohsin, who played 48
Tests and 75 One-day Internationals from 1977-86, is now waiting to have
a meeting with Ashraf. The PCB chairman is currently in Bangladesh but
Mohsin would prefer a one-to-one meeting with Ashraf at the Board
headquarters in Lahore soon after the tour of Bangladesh ends on
One big factor that
goes in Mohsin’s favour is that most of the leading players in the
national team are strongly backing as a long-term choice.
Take for example
Shahid Afridi. The former Pakistan captain spoke highly of Mohsin on his
return from Bangladesh after the limited-overs series.
well with the players, treats the seniors with respect and manages
things well. It felt good to play for Pakistan again in a more positive
and cheery environment,” Afridi told reporters.
Mohsin is pleased to
know that players like Afridi are happy with him around in the dressing
room. “Actually I’m thankful to senior players like Afridi, Younis
(Khan), Umar Gul and (Mohammad) Hafeez for the way they have responded
in UAE and Bangladesh. They have served as role models for the
youngsters and that’s the biggest reason why we have managed to
extract positive results.”
There is not a better
sight in contemporary modern day cricket than Virender Sehwag in full
flow, bashing the best of bowlers all around the park. Perhaps Chris
Gayle may also be added to that list in terms of power and clean
hitting. It is rather unfortunate that Gayle was not able to feature in
the recent one-day series between West Indies and India for surely there
would have been an attempt to match Sehwagís majestic 219 if not the
setting of a new record.
Few would argue with
the fact that currently there are only two players capable of going past
200 in ODIs or rather were as Sehwag went past the 200 set by Sachin
Tendulkar against South Africa a couple of years ago those being Sehwag
and Gayle. The development of the game in terms of it becoming fast and
scores of above 300 or on average 300 in ODIs have become a norm due to
the T20 version of the game.
This is of course
owing to the fact that there are more T20s played during the year than
ODIís and with the advent of leagues such as the IPL, the Champions
league and local domestic T20 competitions. The fast-paced nature and
the entertainment value of a T20 is akin to that of a football match in
terms of consuming time and is preferred by the audience compared to
Test and ODIs. The thin crowds in Test matches all over the world are a
prime example of fans losing interest in longer format of the game but
having said that Tests remain the ultimate tests and the advent of T20ís
increases the burden on a player to display their skills in terms of
changing their game to adjust according to the required format. Perhaps
this is why players these days opt to choose one format of the game
which is made easier by the amount of money involved in the shortest
format of the game. Teams are now focused on having T20 specialists, who
are made for that version and bring success to their national or league
teams accordingly. One may attribute the street cricket culture in
Pakistan to their rise in the T20 format of the game since most players
grow up playing 10 over street cricket.
Itís this rush of
blood and innovations introduced in the game by way of T20 that players
have now gotten used to playing at a faster pace in the 50-over format.
Much has been said about scrapping the 50-over format of the game with
the advent of the T20 game since an ODI consumes a whole day to
complete. However, we must not forget as cricket lovers and followers
that T20 has made 50-over One-day Internationals even more interesting.
New rules have now been introduced one such rule being that of using a
new ball from both ends something that used to be practiced in Australia
back in 80ís. More importantly the introduction of the rule makes the
ODI version more entertaining in terms of the balls being hard at most
times allowing batsmen like Sehwag to capitalise on it and at the same
time puts the onus on bowlers to use their new ball skills in order to
trouble batsmen. It all comes down to how teams manage and take care of
the balls for their own benefit.
Another rule that
helps aid the one-day game is that of the powerplays which allows
batsmen to capitalise on an innings that they have built and at the same
times allows bowlers to display their bowling prowess by keeping runs
down to a minimum. All these rules are a result of the T20
version in order to make the one-day format more interesting and
entertaining. Another plus point of the format remains that even though
huge totals maybe scored it allows equal opportunity and time to the
other side to chase down huge totals and build an innings making the
format all the more interesting. The World cup held earlier in the year
was a prime example of the ODI format still being a favorite amongst
fans around the world.
In the midst of this
discussion one must not forget the real stalwart who set the tone of
things back in 1997, the majestic Pakistani opener Saeed Anwar. What
Saaed Anwar achieved on that humid afternoon in Chennai was nothing less
than a miracle. Flaying around a decent Indian attack especially Anil
Kumble whom he hit for three consecutive sixes was no small feat. It was
the beginning of the change in ODIís when such high individual scores
were imaginable and conceivable by batsmen all over the world. It also
encouraged teams to chase high totals and made them believe that totals
of 300 were chasable and did not mean a sure shot victory for the side
setting such a high total. Anwarís innings stands out because he hardly
played any T20 cricket during his days at the international level and
yet he imbued a class and technique which allowed him to score 194 with
utmost ease. It has taken Tendulkar and now Sehwag more than ten years
to break that record after having played plenty of T20 games allowing
their game to develop something Anwar achieved almost effortlessly.
It can safely be
concluded that although T20s are the ëiní thing and are more
fashionable in terms of fan following due to the hype created by the IPL
and other leagues following suit, the ODI version remains equally
entertaining and skilful with the introduction of new rules allowing the
game to develop further. Like its counterpart the ODI version remains a
classic and calls for abandoning the format are totally unwarranted and
writer is a practicing Barrister in the High Courts of Pakistan.
From his gluten-free
diet to the CVAC pod he reportedly used to jack up his red blood cells,
Novak Djokovic spent the past two years re-engineering himself.
The result? A 70-6
record in 2011 that made everyone else look slow.
While Djokovic credits
confidence, not training, for his wins, the real question is whether his
rebuilt game is built to last. The Serb staggered to the end of his
historic year, pulling out of the Paris Masters in the quarterfinals
with a bad shoulder in November and then losing in the ATP World Tour
Finals to David Ferrer two weeks later.
“My body says it’s
overloaded,” he conceded. Less sliding and taking returns a little
later can save Djokovic some wear and tear, but he will have to fight to
keep his top spot, especially if his rivals can make a few key
Roger Federer (No 3 in
the world) has the best record against Djokovic (14-10) and the least
respect for his style of play. After Djokovic returned a match point
against in the US Open with a cross-court crusher that led him to
victory, Federer was almost haughty in defeat. “Are you kidding me?”
he balked. Djokovic is a master of redirecting apparent winners, so
Federer will need to match him surprise for surprise, wrong-footing
Djokovic wherever he can. He also has to find the serve that made him No
1 for 237 straight weeks, not the one that trailed from weary legs in
Flushing. A word of warning to Novak: Federer took six weeks off after
the Davis Cup in September and is taking a 17-match winning streak into
Rafael Nadal (No 2)
has 10 Grand Slam titles courtesy of his topspin bombs that force
opponents back and make them hit short returns. In response, Djokovic
spent 2011 stepping closer to the baseline and putting Nadal on the
defensive. It worked. Djokovic spent last year sending balls where Nadal
has never seen them go, defeating the Spaniard six times. Nadal spent
November talking about getting his motivation back, but he’ll need to
shorten points against Djokovic. In that high-torque matchup, the best
shoulders and knees will win.
Andy Murray (No 4)
appeared to be on a roll with one Slam final (Australian) and three
semis (French, Wimbledon and US). Emulating Djokovic, he went
gluten-free in August. He then won 13 matches in 18 days on the Asian
leg of the ATP Tour, only to pull out of the World Finals with a groin
injury. The buzz now is who will be his new coach. Ivan Lendl and Jimmy
Connors were names being floated. Both can teach Murray what he really
needs to copy from Djokovic — confidence.
Yes, Ferrer (No 5)
beat Djokovic at the World Finals, but credit Djokovic’s 33 unforced
errors as much as Ferrer’s speed and consistency. Against a fresher
Djokovic, Ferrer will have to make his serve a weapon instead of the
start of a long point.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No
6) is a crowd favorite for his high-risk, high-reward attack. He fell to
Djokovic at Wimbledon, but adding just 10 percent more consistency to
his return game will make him trouble for the Serb — assuming that
Djokovic hasn’t already rebuilt himself again.
Hope were high but
apprehensions abound when Pakistan left for Auckland to make their first
appearance in the elite Hockey Champions Trophy in four years.
The reason why hopes
were high was that the national team had performed pretty well in the
lead up to the eight-nation event and even defeated world champions
Australia, top seeded in Auckland, in a tri-nation final in Perth just a
few weeks before the Champions Trophy. But there were also apprehensions
that the Green-shirts, who had not played in a major event since the
2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, would be thrashed by higher-ranked teams
like Germany, Australia and Spain.
In the end, the
skeptics turned out to be right. Baring a couple of wins against Asian
rivals Korea, Pakistan received a drubbing in all their Champions Trophy
matches before finally slumping to a poor seventh-place finish in the
tournament that was played from December 3-11.
In a way, it’s a
blessing in disguise as Pakistan now know where they actually stand in
international hockey. Following a series of commendable results
including a gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou (China),
hockey fans in Pakistan believed that their team has finally regained
its mojo and is now ready to take on the world. But after a series of
morale-shattering results at the hands of top teams like Australia and
Germany in Auckland, it has become quite evident that Pakistan still lag
far behind the top teams in world hockey.
So what do we do now?
The 2012 Olympic Games are less that eight months away and we cannot
afford a similar thrashing at the hands of the top sides in London.
Pakistan’s hockey authorities will have to find ways and means to put
their team back on track and they will have to find them fast.
Asif Bajwa, the
Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) secretary, says that the PHF is ready
to do that. “It’s very difficult to defend our seventh position in
the Champions Trophy because it is a poor result,” Bajwa, a former
Olympian, told ‘The News on Sunday’. “What happened in Auckland
has served as a wake-up call for us and now we are ready to rethink our
plans for the Olympic Games, which is our biggest target for next
year,” he added.
Bajwa and fellow PHF
officials are planning to go back to the drawing board in a bid to
figure out why Pakistan were unable to beat teams like Great Britain,
against whom they performed pretty well. “One of the biggest problems
with our team is that it creates a lot of goal-scoring opportunities but
fails to really capitalise on them,” says Bajwa.
Bajwa and other top
PHF officials are under a lot criticism from several former stalwarts
and not without reason. Also under fire is Michel van den Heuvel,
Pakistan’s Dutch coach. PHF’s critics allege that the Dutchman has
failed to deliver in a major tournament. Some of them are even calling
for his head, saying that the coach is costing too much without giving
But Van den Heuvel is
not intimidated. Soon after the Auckland debacle, he made it clear that
his sights were set on the Olympic Games. The coach has stressed that
his first goal after starting his stint in Pakistan was the Asian Games
in China where his charges won the title. “Now my next target is the
Olympic Games,” he said in a recent interview.
officials have promised that their team will go all out for an Olympic
medal in London next August. Pakistan, three-time Olympic champions,
have not won an Olympic medal since 1992 when they clinched a bronze in
Barcelona. Team officials believe that the medal drought will end in
London next summer though such promises sound hollow after the team’s
poor showing in Auckland.
But ask Shahid Ali
Khan, one of the coaches assisting van den Heuvel, and he will tell you
that nobody should write off Pakistan’s chances of winning a medal in
“What we have is a
good team that is capable of producing good results,” says Shahid, a
member of the Pakistan team that won the 1982 World Cup in Bombay. “In
Auckland, we had a few off days and were unable to convert our chances.
The boys will work hard in the coming months and I’m confident that
they will have a good chance of reaching the Olympic semifinals.”
Whether Pakistan can
win an Olympic hockey medal remains to be seen. But one hopes that the
national players and officials take all possible steps in the coming
months to make it sure that our contingent doesn’t return home
empty-handed from the London Games. Hockey, after all, is our only hope
of winning an Olympic medal next year.
Pakistan featured in
this year’s Champions Trophy after missing the last three editions.
Their presence owed to the FIH decision to increase the number of
participating sides from six to eight. After the humiliation of the 2010
World Cup, it was Green-shirts’ first appearance in an event featuring
all the top teams of the world.
Since the World Cup,
Pakistan have had mixed fortunes. After the pathetic show at the
Commonwealth Games, the gold at the 2010 Asiad was indeed commendable.
Not only the team won a mega title after a long time but also qualified
for the 2012 Olympics by virtue of the success. Their show at the Sultan
Azlan Shah Cup this year, second position, was also good though most of
the leading European nations were absent. However, they flopped badly
during their Europe tour where they came against the top teams of the
In the tri-nation
event in Australia, Pakistan were able to redeem themselves by winning
the final against the hosts after having been humiliated 2-8 by the same
side in a league game.
The Champions Trophy
was the real test before the 2012 London Olympics. To term it a failure
would be an understatement. Any hopes of an Olympic medal seem to have
completely vanished. Leaving aside the results, the team showed glaring
grey areas in almost every department of the game. No need telling,
physical fitness is the prime requirement in today’s hockey. Apart
from the two games against Korea, Pakistanis were visibly fatigued in
the latter parts of the game; not only the old legs of Waseem, Abbasi
and others but even the younger boys.
Then there is the
perennial excuse, “we created chances but there was a lot of
missing”. But why all this missing? It was really astonishing to see
the goal-scoring opportunities go waste through the use of long handle.
Forwards’ high back lift while taking a shot at the goal meant that
the opposition defence, especially the goalkeeper, got enough time to
get in a proper position.
The strikers of almost all the other sides employed quick and strong
shots/flicks giving the rival defence very little time. Apart from the
game against Germany, where they were completely outplayed, Pakistan did
play well in patches but consistency was lacking; perhaps again down to
the poor physical condition of the players. One could also deduce the
lack of any ‘B’ or contingency plan. Once plan ‘A’ failed they
appeared at a loss of ideas. Unforced errors both in defence and attack
were a norm. In fact, during the tie against Germany, one of the
commentators observed, “Pakistan just having a walk in the field”.
After the 2010 Asiad,
almost everyone related to hockey opined that since Pakistan now have
breathing space till the 2012 Olympics, veterans like Waseem, Sohail and
Salman should be replaced. That would have given the younger boys
necessary experience and confidence, and also helped gel them into a
The decision to
persist with the old horses completely backfired at Auckland. Salman
made a lot of errors conceding a number of soft goals. His replace young
Imran Shah fared better. The oldest member of the side, Waseem Ahmed,
was the playmaker! At times, he was clearly out of breath. Apparently
his prime task was to communicate with the umpire whenever the team
needed some clarification over a decision or wanted a video referral.
Sohail Abbas unfortunately got a nasty injury during the second game and
missed the rest of the tournament. It seemed the management had no idea
how to deploy Sohail: as a deep defender or a midfielder. He was seen
out of place in the field. Among the established members, Abbasi was one
of the disappointments. He did show his patent flair beating a defender
or two but mostly spoilt the good work through poor passes. The skipper
Muhammad Imran converted a few penalty corners but as a deep defender
his show was below par. Quite a few times, he lost possession close to
his striking circle conceding penalty corners and even goals. Among the
younger forwards, Rizwan Senior was hard
working but does not possess any special technical skill. Shafqat Rasool
only shone in the games against Korea. Centre-forward Haseem gave some
glimpses of close control in front of the goal and managed to find the
target thrice but mostly he was totally dependent on others to feed him.
In the midfield, only
left-half Rashid gave an above average performance. Players like M
Zubair, Waqas Sharif, Fareed, M Irfan, who have been around for quite a
while, appeared to be mere pedestrians most of the time against the
tougher opponents. Among the juniors, only Tauseeq showed some spark.
Here, one must mention
the fact that that most of the big teams have been following a policy of
rotation. Legendary Ric Charlesworth, coach of the Australia, revealed
quite some time back, “I have 52 hard core players and would test all
of them before the Olympics”; Kookaburras were without at least five
first choice players in New Zealand. Likewise, the German team-sheet
also didnít show many front liners including the famous Zeller
brothers. Pakistan were one of the few sides with their first choice
PHF President Qasim
Zia’s political standing means there is no dearth of finances for the
federation. They have hired a very expensive Dutch coach for the
national outfit and the team has made a number of foreign tours. Yet,
the performance at the biggest event of 2011 was miserable.