Tribute
‘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.

China series a baby step in right direction
By Bilal Hussain
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.

Misfiring on all cylinders
By Zain Qureshi
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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute
‘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.

Jahangir proved 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 squash.”

 

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 of England.

“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 that time.

“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,” says Abbasi.

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.”

 

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Nur Khan:

A success story

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.

 

HOCKEY

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.

Pakistan team’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 in 1982.

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.

 

SQUASH

From 1951 to 1963, Pakistanis achieved remarkable success in Squash winning the most coveted title, 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 couldn’t materialize.

 

CRICKET

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.

 

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China series a baby step in right direction
By Bilal Hussain

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.

Under normal 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 again.

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 series.

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.

 

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Misfiring on all cylinders
By Zain Qureshi

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 front.

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.

 

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