China series a baby step in right
Misfiring on all cylinders
‘A giant among men’
TNS talks to Arif Ali Khan Abbasi about the life and times of
Nur Khan, the legendary war hero, who changed the face of Pakistan sports
By Khalid Hussain
The year is 1979.
Jahangir Khan, an unassuming 15-year-old Pathan kid from Karachi, is
keen to be a part of Pakistan’s team for the World Championships in
Australia. But national squash selectors decide to snub him, declaring
that he was not good enough to play for Pakistan.
Thankfully for the
game for squash, that wasn’t the end of the story.
Just when Jahangir had
lost all hopes of going to Australia, Air Marshal Nur Khan, then heading
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), decided to send the lad Down
Under to feature in the World Amateur Individual Championship. Jahangir
went on to win the crown to become the event’s youngest ever champion.
“I still remember
how Jahangir was taken under PIA’s wings and sent to Australia,”
recalls Arif Ali Khan Abbasi while talking to ‘The News on Sunday’.
“Air Marshal Nur Khan had this ability to just identify talent,”
says Abbasi, who worked with Nur Khan for several years. “He loved
doers,” he adds.
himself as a doer and went on to become Pakistan’s most successful
sportsman of all time. “With Jahangir in full flow there was a time in
international squash when everybody used to play for number two with
Pakistan at top,” says Abbasi. “And I must say that Nur Khan and PIA
played a big role in making it all possible.”
He adds: “Together
they gave the squash world its best ever facility in the shape of the
PIA Squash Complex which was considered as the Mecca of international
Fast forward to 1983.
India stunned the cricket fraternity by winning the World Cup in
England. Almost immediately, Nur Khan questioned the reasons why the
coveted event couldn’t be taken out of England. Within months he
helped establish the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) thus setting up the
foundation for what is today known as the powerful Asian bloc in the
world of cricket. He also donated Rs20,000 from his own pocket for a
glittering Asia Cup trophy. Four years later, Pakistan and India jointly
hosted the 1987 World Cup, making it the first such event to be held out
“Before Nur Khan
helped bring it to the subcontinent, England used to run a village
tournament called the World Cup,” says Abbasi.
“Pakistan turned the
cricket World Cup into the second largest sporting event after the
football World Cup. The Indians joined us later.
“It was Nur Khan who
formed the Asian Cricket Council (ACC). He donated the Asia Cup. I
remember having the trophy designed. He paid for it from his own pocket.
He spent more than Rs20,000 for it which was quite a sizeable sum at
“It is because of us
that cricket today has neutral umpires. Even having ball boys in the
field was Pakistan’s idea. And it all happened because of the vision
of that one man. He changed the face of cricket.”
Abbasi still remembers
the hostile opposition Pakistan received for their idea of having a
neutral panel of umpires. “Almost everybody opposed it initially. Once
we had a meeting to discuss it and our own captain decided against
attending it,” recalls Abbasi.
But as they say nobody
can stop an idea whose time has come. Within years neutral umpires
became a norm and the days when visiting teams had to go through the
nightmare of biased decisions became a thing of the past. “That one
single idea has had a lasting impression in the world of cricket,”
Abbasi remembers how
Nur Khan helped commercialise Pakistan cricket.
“Things were really
awful before he took over Pakistan cricket. I still remember there was a
full-house in Karachi and the total earning was Rs39000. Another
full-house in Lahore and the total profit was Rs11000.
“The first thing Nur
Khan did was order an audit. It had never happened before. After that
when West Indies were coming here we offered them a guaranteed fee of Rs
4.5 million. Everybody questioned it. But we made a profit of Rs108
lakhs from gate money during the series.
“Nur Khan didn’t
just change the way cricket was run in Pakistan, he helped turn cricket
into an industry globally.”
Travel back in time to
1978. Pakistan are easily the most dominant team in the hockey world.
With a star-studded line-up, they were just riding roughshod over their
rivals, winning international titles at will. But the problem was that
back then there weren’t many international events. For hockey players
the only two major events were the Olympics and World Cup. International
assignments for Pakistani champions were few and far between.
It was Nur Khan, who
came out with the idea of having an annual tournament featuring the
world’s best teams. Within months, Pakistan hosted the inaugural
edition of the Champions Trophy in 1978. Since then the Champions Trophy
has become the most prestigious annual tournament run by the
International Hockey Federation (FIH).
“In spite of all he
had done for cricket and squash, it was pretty clear that Nur Khan’s
first love was hockey,” says Abbasi, who headed the Pakistan Hockey
Federation (PHF) during 1999-2000. “He was a great fan of players like
Hanif Khan and Manzoor Junior and would keenly follow the progress of
our national team.”
It was during Nur
Khan’s tenure as PIA chief that the national carrier adopted hockey.
“There was a time when PIA didn’t even need to advertise. It
sponsored hockey and squash. In the squash world it was known as the
squash airline. What I want to say here is that it was money well spent
as PIA received huge mileage and great accolades both at home and abroad
because of its association with hockey and squash. And our players
responded by becoming the world champions.”
Abbasi, who followed
in the footsteps of the Air Marshal to become a sports administrator of
international repute, regards Nur Khan as his mentor.
“He was easily the
most outstanding person I’ve ever met.
The great thing about
him was that he knew the value of delegation.
“His talents were
huge. I don’t know of anybody who has done more for our country
whether as an administrator, manager or war hero.”
Abbasi remembers Nur
Khan more as a sentimental senior than a no-nonsense boss.
“I still remember I
had taken leave and went to London. After two days he rang me up and
asked ‘what are you doing there’. He told me to better get back
home. We were awfully close. When I came back I learnt there was nothing
pressing that needed my presence.
“He was extremely
sentimental. He was a very loving person. If he gave you a job to do he
didn’t interfere in it. He will give you his hundred percent backing.
One learnt a lot from him.”
Abbasi confesses that
he ‘copied’ Nur Khan after taking over major assignments like chief
executive of Pakistan’s cricket board, managing director of PIA and
president of Pakistan Hockey Federation.
“I copied his
methods. I remember when I became president of PHF I also indulged in
giving incentives to players and the results were splendid.”
Abbasi laments the
fact that Pakistan failed to pay the sort of tribute to Nur Khan that he
so richly deserved.
“I feel terribly
sorry that such a big name has passed away but our sports administrators
have done nothing to pay him a proper tribute. Pakistan should initiate
a Nur Khan Trophy either in hockey or cricket. It will be just a small
tribute to a legend, who was a giant among men.”
A success story
By Ijaz Chaudhry
Air Marshal Nur Khan
who passed away on the 15th of December was a larger than life figure.
He headed the Pakistan Air Force from 1965-69. Under his leadership, PAF
was able to hold its own against the much bigger Indian Air Force in the
1965 war. As the chairman of Pakistan International Airlines, he guided
the national flag carrier to emerge as one of the best in the world. He
also served as the governor of West Pakistan (1969-70).
In the field of
sports, he headed the national bodies of all the three major disciplines
which have brought universal recognition to Pakistan.
Nur Khan had two
tenures as the president of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (1966-69 and
1977-84) and achieved a perfect record: winning each and every title
tournament. When he first took the charge in late 1966, Pakistan had
lost both the Olympics and the Asian Games, the only two titles of that
era. As the 1968 Olympics were to be staged at the high altitude of
Mexico, Pakistan’s training camp was held at Lower Topa near Murree.
The team with many new faces surprised everyone at Mexico, winning all
the nine matches to return home with the gold medal. A great visionary,
he immediately raised a second string. The very next year, PHF staged an
international tournament in Lahore featuring almost all the major hockey
nations. The two teams that played the final were both Pakistan’s.
achievements during Nur Khan’s second tenure are unbelievable: Two
World Cup victories (1978 & 1982) and an Olympic gold (1984). Note:
Pakistan boycotted the 1980 Olympics when they were the overwhelming
favourites. The green shirts also won all the continental events during
the periodóthe Asian games of 1978 and 1982 plus the inaugural Asia Cup
Nur Khan regarded the
national players a real treasure and always cared for their welfare. In
his capacity as the chairman of PIA, he arranged jobs for national
players in the airline in the officers’ cadre. Little wonder, PIA has
dominated the domestic scene and has won the national title more than
any other team.
His services to hockey
go beyond Pakistan. In fact, he is universally acknowledged as one of
the greatest benefactors of hockey. It was Nur Khan who gave the world
of hockey, two of the most important tournamentsóWorld Cup and
Champions Trophy. In the sidelines of the 1968 Olympics, there were
rumours that some team disciplines might be dropped from the future
editions. On Nur Khan’s insistence, the FIH (International Hockey
Federation) agreed to the idea of the World Cup. Pakistan also donated
the beautiful trophy. Then in 1978, the great visionary suggested that
in order to raise the standards of the game an annual tournament between
the top national teams should be initiated. That resulted in the birth
of Champions Trophy. Again, the trophy came from Pakistan.
From 1951 to 1963,
Pakistanis achieved remarkable success in Squash winning the most
the British Open, all those thirteen years. Thereafter, it was a barren
period. Not only that any Pakistani failed to land the title over the
next decade but only one Aftab Javaid managed to reach the final. When
Nur Khan became the chairman of the PIA, he immediately took
revolutionary steps. He initiated the PIA Colts scheme. Young promising
boys were spotted and given a monthly stipend. They were coached and
sent to participate in international tournaments with PIA bearing the
travel expenses. Whosoever performed well on the international circuit
was given permanent employment in PIA. The incentives didn’t end
there. If any of the players achieved some major success in prime
events, he was rewarded with a departmental promotion. All this led to a
surfeit of world class Pakistani players in the 70s: Qamar Zaman, Gogi
Allauddin, Hiddy Jahan, Mohibullah Khan Junior and others. There used to
be six to seven Pakistanis among the top 10 in the world rankings. In
1975, on Nur Khan’s request, legendary Azam Khan, four-time winner of
British Open (1959-62), who was running a squash club in England,
prepared Qamar Zaman and Mohibullah Jr for the British Open. And it paid
off as Qamar Zaman brought back the title to Pakistan after 12 years.
Then Jehangir Khan, a pure PIA colts product, became the greatest squash
player of all time.
As in hockey, Nur Khan
made Pakistan an important centre of squash. Pakistan Open initiated in
1980 became a prestigious tournament and the country also hosted World
Open. His innovative mind had other ideas as well. Nur Khan had proposed
a grand slam of squash on the pattern of tennis. It would have consisted
of British, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand Opens as these four
countries were the dominating forces in ‘70s and ‘80s. But it
Nur Khan was initially
not a great cricket fan. He thought cricket was overshadowing hockey —
his first love. When Pakistan lost a highly publicised cricket series in
India in 1979-80, the president of the country General Zia ul Haq
appointed Nur Khan the president of the PCB, a post he held from
1980-84. In his characteristic style, he immediately took bold steps. He
replaced the captain Mushtaq Mohammad with the 22-year-old Javed Miandad,
but at the same time appointed Mushtaq as a full-time manager-cum-coach,
which was a completely new concept in Pakistan cricket.
The decision though
didn’t prove very successful as Miandad wasn’t mature for the
captaincy and after three test series almost the entire team rebelled
against him. Nur Khan dealt with the most difficult situation adroitly.
He initially backed Miandad, but later very realistically went for a
compromise candidate for the captaincy in Imran Khan. Not many people
expected that. This one decision of Nur Khan ushered Pakistan cricket
into its golden era as under Imran Pakistan achieved unprecedented
successes, including lifting the World Cup.
The visionary in him
made such suggestions to the ICC which on implementation changed the
face of international cricket: neutral umpires in international cricket;
introduction of match referee; moving the World Cup out of England
(first three World Cups had all been staged in England).
Many believe, and with
good reasons, that Pakistan became the World Champion in three sports
largely due to the decisions and actions of this one man.
It’s a pleasant
December afternoon and an enthralling game of hockey is under progress
at Karachi’s Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium. It’s the second Test
match between Pakistan and China and both the teams are battling eagerly
for supremacy. China, who were blanked 3-0 by the Green-shirts the other
day, had a perfect start as they raced to a 2-0 advantage within the
first 11 minutes of the played last Thursday. But a small yet vocal
crowd is delighted as Pakistan bounced back to finally win the match 5-3
to go 2-0 up in the four-match series.
circumstances, it would have been an ordinary match. China, who are not
included in the top-ten international teams, are still regarded among
the minnows in world hockey in spite of the fact that they have emerged
as a force on the Asian circuit in recent years. One of their biggest
victims are Pakistan, the former champions who were stunned by China in
the semifinals of the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
But it was no ordinary
match. By accepting Pakistan’s invitation to feature in the series,
China became the first international hockey team to visit the country in
seven years. The last time Pakistan played host to international hockey
teams was in December 2004 when it staged the elite Champions Trophy.
It may not be a huge
development as far as the return of international sporting activities is
concerned but one must say that China’s visit to Pakistan is a baby
step in the right direction.
The timing of the
series is also quite perfect. Pakistan just returned from Auckland (New
Zealand) where they flopped miserably in the 2011 Champions Trophy. The
Green-shirts slumped to the seventh place in the eight-nation
tournament, just ahead of Asian rivals Korea.
After being thrashed
by world’s top teams including Australia, Germany and Spain, Pakistan
needed to regain some confidence in the lead up to the Olympic Games in
London — their biggest assignment in 2011. And the series against
China provided them with a perfect opportunity to put aside the bitter
memories of Auckland and start focusing on the Olympic assignment once
At the time of filing
this article on Thursday, Pakistan were still to play two more Tests
against China in Faisalabad (Saturday) and in Lahore on Sunday (today).
Even though, Pakistan received an early scare from the visitors in the
second Test at HCP, one believes that they should go on to sweep the
After having commented
on the first two Tests, one must underline the fact that the HCP –
once regarded as the most prestigious hockey stadium in the world – is
in a pretty bad shape. In spite of hectic efforts by the organisers to
assure that the two matches against China are held smoothly, a visit to
the HCP turned out to be an eye opener. The synthetic turf is almost
completely worn out while it seems that some of the stands will crumble
if a capacity crowd does turn up for any match in the future.
One would hope that
the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) makes efforts to save the HCP by
carrying out renovation and face-lift work as soon as possible.
The promise made by
Governor Sindh Ishrat-ul Ebad that a new synthetic turf will soon be
bought for the HCP is a good development. Not the onus is on the PHF
because its officials will have to go all out and take appropriate
measures to help the HCP regain its lost glory.
As the adage goes, one
cannot win the championship in the first half of the season, but one can
lose it. The same would appear to hold true for other similar goals,
such as qualification for European football the following season, and
hold true it does for Liverpool.
With the New Year fast
approaching, Liverpool should look back at the first half of this
Premier League season as a series of triumphs interspersed with missed
opportunities. Goals have not come easily, and some goals have been let
in with appalling defending, resulting in the club dropping points that
will be dearly missed as we come towards the business end of the season.
The underlying causes
range from lapses in concentration at the back to a sheer lack of
imagination and drive from midfield. Charlie Adam, for all his wonderful
set pieces and hammer of a left foot, is yet to provide the consistency
in passing that is the hallmark of a playmaker. The Scot will suffer
more in the absence of the injured Lucas, who is out for the rest of the
season. The latter formed the bedrock of the Reds’ midfield, playing
something of a sweeping role in midfield as the natural ball winner. His
services are missed more sorely in less open games like the one against
Wigan, where Liverpool were getting overrun in midfield as the
combination of Henderson and Adam failed to cope with marauding men in
blue. Adam is not meant to be a holding midfielder and is more of a ball
player, while Henderson aspires to the same role, especially in the
continued absence of Steven Gerrard, who has become, by virtue of his
unavailability, a symbol of what the club lack in midfield.
Adam and Henderson do
not possess the wherewithal to stem a tide of opponent pressure, and are
more adept when the team is going forward regularly themselves. Kuyt,
for all his hard work, cannot be considered a comfortable option to pass
to on the right wing. Left on his own, the Dutchman is well below par
when it comes to passes, whether long range or short, and his use is
meant to add some defensive backbone to the wings. The real
disappointment, therefore, is Downing, who has failed to shine either on
the wings or in a free role behind the striker, where he looked awkward
and uncomfortable. The former Aston Villa man is industrious though, but
the lack of consistent output means limited opportunities for the men
running into the penalty area.
That said, however,
the strikers at Liverpool are themselves to blame for not killing games
off and leaving the team vulnerable to attack.
Suarez alone has
turned hitting the post into something of an art form. The slippery
front man, ever so adept at turning defenders, forcing fouls and
generally making a nuisance of himself around the opposition penalty
area, is the first and foremost guilty party when it comes to
Liverpool’s rather poor goal tally. Given the (admittedly well
deserved) prominence placed on Suarez as the spearhead of the Reds’
attack, the Uruguayan needs to step his game up and finish off the
chances that he is so good at conjuring out of nothing.
In all fairness
though, he is not the only culprit here. Perhaps a bigger target, both
in size and in terms of lack of output, is Andy Carroll, who has barely
impressed with what he has shown on the pitch. Of the four strikers
currently available to manager Kenny Dalglish, Kuyt, Carroll, Suarez and
Bellamy, it is the latter two who appear to gel the best and Liverpool
undoubtedly play a more fluid style of football with this combination up
This leads us to
wonder about what the best formation would be for Liverpool in the
coming weeks and months, based on what the players have done so far when
given the chance. The easiest decision is the keeper, and that is Reina.
Despite a sudden trend tendency towards eccentricity, the Spaniard is a
top notch stopper and commands his penalty area well. Next, at least
three out of the back four need to be consistent choices. The left back
position is an easy choice in the form of Jose Enrique. In the centre,
Coates has yet to prove he is ready to put in a strong performance,
while Skrtel and Agger are the best bet, given the unavailability of
Carragher to partake in proceedings. At right back, Glen Johnson tends
to get the nod over Martin Kelly, but they both offer different things.
Johnson has superior composure and control on the ball in the opposition
half, while Kelly is a more traditional right back in that he is defense
minded first and forays forward only when invited by the midfield.
Up front, the clearest
combination is Bellamy and Suarez, with both men allowed to roam ahead
of the four in midfield to try and pick apart defences.
This leaves the
midfield four, and that is where the real conundrum is, both in terms of
shape and selection. Given that there is no genuine holding midfielder
available, one option is to have Henderson and Adam in the middle, with
Downing on one wing and either of Maxi or Kuyt on the other, depending
on the need of the hour; Maxi is more attacking while Kuyt puts in the
work rate to help out on defensive duties. The other option, and this is
a more adventurous one, is to deploy either Shelvey or Spearing in a
holding midfield role, while using one of Adam or Henderson one step
closer to the striker. The flanks would still need to be decided by a
combination of Maxi, Kuyt and Downing.
One will propose the
use of Shelvey and Spearing in a holding role as it is these two players
who will be hungriest to prove themselves and earn a place in the
starting eleven, and so are more likely to be willing to be moulded into
a different position than what they have been used to.
The last option, and
if done right, most pleasing to see, would be a 4-1-2-3, with Shelvey or
Spearing in a holding role, both Henderson and Adam further up, and
Suarez, Bellamy and Downing as the front three. In theory, what this
formation sacrifices in defensive strength, it should make up for with
attacking power and pace. Then again, in theory, Liverpool should be
securing three points against the likes of Sunderland, Swansea and Wigan.