fast bowling void
Seniors need to prove their worth
‘Shooting has enormous potential in Pakistan’
In search of glory
With just a fortnight to go before their Olympic opener against Spain, Pakistan are training hard at a hockey club in Staffordshire to get ready for London 2012
By Khalid Hussain
hockey team landed in Britain last Thursday well ahead of its Olympic
opener against Spain in London on July 30. With short corner expert
Sohail Abbas at the helm, the Greenshirts have camped at the Cannock
Hockey Club in Staffordshire in a bid to fine tune their preparations
for London 2012 to be held from July 27-August 12.
The idea is not just
to wrap up their Olympic homework but to acclimatise with the conditions
in England ahead of the Olympics where the Pakistanis will be looking to
win an elusive medal. Hoping against hope, the Pakistanis are eyeing
their first Olympic medal in 20 years even though not many are willing
to give them a chance to achieve that feat.
Before leaving for
England, the Pakistanis received high-altitude training in Abbottabad.
Under the watchful eye of their coaches as well as Pakistan Army
instructors, the hockey players worked hard to improve their on-field
showing and, perhaps more importantly, physical fitness.
For several days, the
national hockey players were cut off from the rest of the world. The
idea was to put complete focus on their training and to help promote
unity and harmony among the players.
high-altitude training in Abbottabad, where the weather was excellent,
has been really beneficial," Khawaja Junaid, the Pakistan team
coach, told 'The News on Sunday' before the team's departure for
struggled a bit in the beginning but they quickly adapted to the
conditions. We believe that our players are now in peak physical
condition and raring to give their best in the Olympics," stressed
In Abbottabad, there
were TV sets and phones in the players' rooms. Laptops were banned. The
routine was completely regimental during the camp. An early morning
breakfast would be followed by training. The players lunched together
and then trained again in the evening before assembling for an early
Junaid, a former
Olympian, believes that it was a great idea to have the last pre-Olympic
camp in Abbottabad.
"When we have
training camps in places like Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad the players
have too many options to divert their attention," he said.
together but the rest of their time is spent according to individual
preferences. Some of them go out in groups of threes and fours for
dinner while the rest of them prefer to stay in their rooms.
Abbottabad things were different. They had ample time to bond following
a series of team meetings, breakfasts, lunches and dinners together. It
was a great opportunity to further instill team spirit and I must say
that the morale among our boys is on an all time high. They are
completely focused and united which is a great sign before the
Another factor, which
Junaid views as a beneficial one for his team, is that the players were
able to rejuvenate during the Abbottabad camp.
important for an athlete to peak at the right time and I'm confident
that our team is going to peak in London."
need to show much better form than they have done in the last 18 months
or so. Since winning the 2010 Asian Games in China, a feat that earned
them a direct spot for London 2012, the Pakistanis have been unable to
impress much. They did win a minor three-nation event in Australia last
year but a disastrous seventh-place finish at the Champions Trophy in
Auckland last December was a clear indicator that Pakistan lag far
behind leading teams like Australia, Germany and Netherlands.Even worse
was their last-place finish at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this
summer in the Malaysian city of Ipoh.
disasters in Auckland and Ipoh have provided the team's critics with
plenty of ammunition. Even our team's ardent supporters doubt that
Pakistan will somehow be able to finish on the victory stand in London.
Most agree that
Pakistan are going to be among the also-rans in London.
But Junaid thinks
otherwise. "Any team that takes us for granted in London will do so
at its own peril," he said. "We may have failed to produce
great results in the Champions Trophy and in Ipoh but the fact is that
we have been playing close matches even against higher-ranked teams. We
just have to raise our game and play even better to improve the
But do they have a
sound strategy to bring about an improvement at a major event like the
"Of course we
have made our plans," he said. "We have trained hard and are
going to fine tune our preparations in Cannock and by the time we reach
London, I'm sure that our team will be all set to give its best."
Junaid believes that
Cannock is a great choice for the final phase of his team's Olympic
"Cannock will be
like Abbottabad in many ways," he said. "We had options to
camp in London and Manchester but we opted for Cannock because it's a
small town where the boys will be in a better position to stay focused
and train hard."
London 2012 is likely
to be the last major event for Sohail Abbas, arguably the most
accomplished Pakistani hockey player of his generation. In the past,
hockey authorities overlooked him while selecting national skippers but
finally he is the one wearing the captaincy armband.
Can the world's
highest goal-scorer inspire his team at London 2012?
"Sohail Abbas is
disciplined and highly respected among his teammates," said Junaid.
"A team leader has to be a role model and Sohail is just that. All
of us are confident that he will bring the best out of his players in
Khalid Hussain is
Editor Sports of The News, Karachi
losses in Sri Lanka have once again highlighted the fact that Pakistan
have not been able to fill the void caused by the disgraceful exit of
Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif.
Had the pace duo been
there Pakistan would not have lost the matches that they did. In the
four one-day matches, Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir together managed just
ten wickets. Asif and Amir would have grabbed many more.
Thisara Perera, who is
less experienced than both Gul and Tanvir in international cricket,
alone captured 11 wickets. And he was given fine support by Nuwan
Kalusekara and Lasith Malinga who took seven wickets each.
In the Test series
too, the weakness of Pakistani fast bowling was badly exposed. Umar Gul,
the most experienced of our fast bowlers, failed miserably. He took just
one wicket from 62 overs in four innings, giving away 220 runs. Similar
was the failure of Aizaz Cheema and Mohammad Sami who played one Test
Junaid Khan was the
only successful fast bowler for us during the Test series with his 15
wickets from three matches. But of course, he cannot take five wickets
in each inning. He needs support from the other end, which his fast
bowling partners failed to provide.
Most of the successes
under Misbah-ul-Haq, who was appointed Test captain immediately after
the spot fixing episode, have been achieved thanks to the fine work of
spin bowling by Abdul Rehman and Saeed Ajmal, who have an average of
almost five wickets per match in the last two years.
But spinners cannot
win us matches on pitches of every kind. Ajmal and Rehman might not be
able to perform as well in Australia, England or South Africa as they
have done on Asian wickets.
We have tried a number
of bowlers since the departure of the spot-fixing duo, but none of them
has performed consistently enough to cement his place.
Tanvir Ahmed impressed
in his first Test against South Africa, taking six wickets, including
that of Jaques Kallis, but his performance declined gradually and
consequently he fell out of favour with the selectors. Also, he is about
32, so he cannot be really considered as a long term prospect. Similar
is the case with Aizaz Cheema, who is also about 32.
Sohail Tanvir and
Mohammad Sami are good for limited-overs cricket only. Tanvir does not
have pace enough to be successful in Test cricket. On the other hand
Sami is very quick but can move the ball very little. So both of them
are unsuitable for Test cricket where those bowlers perform well who can
generate pace as well as swing.
Pakistan Cricket Board
(PCB) chairman Zaka Ashraf said following the team’s triumph against
England in the Test series that he wants to see Pakistan at the top of
the cricket world. If Pakistan are to achieve that goal, consistent fast
bowlers will have to be found.
Looking at the current
fast bowling stock of the country, one nostalgically remembers the late
1990s, when the emergence of Shoaib Akhtar, Azhar Mahmood and Abdul
Razzaq led to the ouster of Aaqib Javed, a hugely talented one-day
bowler, at the young age of 26.
authorities must work very hard to produce fast bowling options like we
had in that era or stop dreaming of a World Cup victory or top Test
failed to end their tour to Sri Lanka with an encouraging result as they
lost the Test series against the hosts 0-1. They had already lost the
One-day International series 1-3. The two-match Twenty20 series had a
Sri Lanka won the
first Test comprehensively at Galle by 209 runs while the later two
Tests ended in draw, mainly due to intermittent showers that consumed
quite a lot of time.
This was Sri Lanka's
first Test series win since beating New Zealand 2-0 at home in 2009. Sri
Lanka have won only three Tests since the legendary Muralitharan
retired, lost seven and drawn 10.
Sri Lanka failed to
take 20 wickets in the first eight matches after Murali's retirement.
But in the next 12 matches they have bowled the opposition out twice on
For Pakistan, on the
other hand, it was the first series defeat since the 1-3 defeat against
England in 2010. It was also Pakistan's second consecutive series defeat
in Sri Lanka after the 2-0 loss in 2009.
Sri Lanka's victory at
Galle by 209 runs was their largest against Pakistan by runs.
Pakistan were bowled
out in their first innings for just 100 runs, their second-lowest total
against Sri Lanka after 90 at P Sara Oval in 2009. This was the ninth
time in Tests since 2000 that Pakistan were dismissed for a total of 100
or lower. Only once have they been dismissed below 100 twice in a game
(in 2002 against Australia in Sharjah).
In the same period, no
other team has been bowled out as many times for totals of 100 or lower.
During the series
Younis Khan became the 21st batsman — and the first from Pakistan —
to aggregate 1000 runs in the fourth innings. His average of 59.70 in
fourth innings is the highest among batsmen with 1000 plus runs in
By falling for 87,
Younis missed out on becoming the only player to score five centuries in
fourth innings. He is level with four other batsmen on four hundreds.
In the second Test at
Colombo (SSC) Kumar Sangakkara missed out on scoring his ninth
double-century. However, he is now fourth on the list of batsmen with
the most 150-plus scores (16) in Tests. Sangakkara joined Mohammad
Yousuf in being dismissed in the 190s on three different occasions. It
was also the first time that two batsmen were dismissed in the 190s in
the same game.
Sangakara was the most
successful batsman of the Test series with 490 runs at an average of
163.33 with the help of two centuries and one fifty.
Mohammad Hafeez was
Pakistan's highest run-getter with 315 runs, including one hundred and
one half-century, averaging 52.50.
Two youngsters Azhar
Ali (300) and Asad Shafiq (257) further cemented their places in the
Test side with remarkable performances under pressure.
Rangana Herath and
Saeed Ajmal took 15 wickets each with averages of 28.33 and 29.30,
Left-arm fast bowler
Junaid Khan can be called the finding of the series for Pakistan. On
flat wickets where mostly spinners dominated, he took 14 wickets with an
excellent average of just 21.78.
But Umar Gul, his
senior partner, gave disappointing performances, managing just one
wicket from 62 overs in two Test matches, conceding 220 runs.
Muhammad Sami also
failed to impress in the last match as he took only one wicket after
conceding 92 runs.
Hockey Federation (PHF) has sent off the national team to London for
Olympic Games 2012 following a brief training camp in Abbottabad.
The selection of the
team is a carbon copy of what we have been seeing for the last two years
with four or five changes in each tournament and the end result is that
mostly ageing players are being inducted in the squad.
Even Waseem Ahmed and
Sohail Abbas who were overlooked for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing
are back in the side along with Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi — the
duo who were banned by PHF for participating in an unsanctioned
professional league in India.
This belies the claim
of Pakistan’s chief selector that the team was selected on the basis
of last six months’ performance of our players.
The selection of the
mostly ageing players for this mega event not only creates imbalance,
but also reduces the chances of Pakistan team to maintain its eighth
position in the world rankings.
All this has exposed
the efficiency of PHF, which claims to have established an academy
culture. According to PHF, 19 hockey academies are training 600 players
with the help of 55 paid coaches for the last four years. But the
question is: what have these academies produced so far?
These academies have
failed to produce a single player for the national team as the ageing
players remain indispensible though they should have retired after the
Asian Games 2010.
It is surprising that
goalkeeper Salman Akbar who was the hero of 2010 Asian Games and enabled
Pakistan to qualify for the Olympic Games has been snubbed for London
2012. He is younger than Waseem and Sohail and has been playing
regularly in the Dutch league.
Before the departure
of the team for the Azlan Shah Cup, the chief coach and PHF claimed the
team would achieve a top-four finish, but after the dismal performance
there they changed the stance and instead of setting a target for the
Olympics have fixed a target for the team for 2014 World Cup.
Moreover, the chief
selector has also said that if the team got third position it should be
considered as a gold medal.
I think this type of
statement from a senior official not only confuses the nation but the
boys as well.
Pakistan are placed in
pool A along with Spain, Australia, England, Argentina and South Africa
which I think is a comparatively easier pool.
The schedule of
matches is also in favour of Pakistan, who have to play their first
match on July 30 against Spain followed by matches against Argentina,
England, South Africa and Australia. So if Pakistan win two and draw one
of their early games, which is a goal not too difficult to achieve, then
they will have to earn just three more point out of the remaining two
Pakistan have a good
record against lower-ranked teams like Argentina and South Africa, but
against Australia, England and Spain, they have not been performing too
well for the past two years.
But I believe in the
sort of miracles that happened in 1976 Olympic Games when New Zealand
won the gold although we beat them 5ó2 in a pool match.
So PHF should not make
any discouraging statements because Pakistan hockey has a very rich
record in Olympic Games with three gold, two silver and two bronze
In the end, I will
advise the senior players to forget the discouraging statements as this
Olympics will be their last. They should exhibit a do or die approach.
You have to play composed but attacking hockey.
The most important
factors for Pakistan would be the performance from the senior players
and their timely substitution by the team management so they can survive
till the last match of the tournament.
Khurram Inam may become only the third Pakistani to win an individual
Olympic medal in the history of the Games. It seems quite far-fetched
but such a miracle can happen on July 31 in London — the final day of
the two-day skeet shooting event of Olympic Games 2012.
But Khurram is well
aware of the fact that miracles don’t happen very often at least not
at a major sporting event like the Olympic Games.
speaking, I will be pleased with my performance if I manage to finish
among the top-10 in London,” says Khurram.
Apart from a top-ten
finish, Khurram is eyeing another personal milestone at London 2012.
“My personal best is 119 and now my target is to better that score in
London,” says Khurram, who shot 119 at the Sydney Games and also at an
international meet in Kuala Lumpur.
For those who don’t
know much about Khurram Inam, here are some basic facts. Khurram, 45, is
one of the most experienced shooters in Pakistan. He has represented
Pakistan at two Olympic Games — in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004) —
apart from various international events.
Khurram has won
countless events at home but rues the fact that he is yet to win any
international laurels for Pakistan.
enormous potential but unfortunately we haven’t invested much in it
like the manner other countries like India have done,” he laments.
“With better coaching and other facilities I’m sure that our
shooters can excel at the international arena.”
Olympic appearances in Sydney and Athens, Khurram missed the 2008 Games
in Beijing. But he has managed to make his comeback by winning the sole
Olympic spot at stake during national trials.
trials was easily the toughest competition I’ve even faced in my
life,” says Khurram. “There were five rounds of trials and then
another three rounds before a winner was decided. I feel really happy to
win it and now will focus on giving my best in London.”
country at the Olympics Games is one of the greatest honours one can
have and I’ll go all out to make sure that I give my best in
London,” he stresses.
“Everyone dreams of
winning an Olympic medal and so do I. But the fact is that most of the
skeet shooters coming to London will be there following four years of
extensive training under supervision of some of the world’s best
coaches. Shooters in Pakistan, in contrast, train with limited resources
which is a huge handicap.
“But I will still go
to London in a positive frame of mind because skeet shooting is an
unpredictable event and anything is possible in it,” he adds.
Khurram has featured
in a competition at the shooting range that has been established for
London 2012 and rates it as a tough one.
“The shooting range
established for the London Games is a difficult one because of its
design and backdrop and will pose a huge challenge to all
Khurram is expecting
that the skeet shooting event at London 2012 will witness a close battle
“There are a lot of
very good shooters from countries like Sweden, USA, Italy and Ukraine
who will be vying for the gold in London and you can’t predict who is
going to win the title there. I can say for sure that there is going to
be a really tough competition for skeet medals in London,” he signs
Nur Khan became the President of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) in
1967. He promised the nation, “I would spare no effort to bring back
the Olympics hockey gold.”
Since 1962, the
team’s graph had been going downwards. Pakistan had lost both the
titles: Olympics and Asiad, losing to India in the final each time, in
1964 and 1966, respectively.
Things went from bad
to worse as they finished in fifth position in the pre-Olympic festival
Nur Khan brought Brig
Manzoor Hussain Atif as the manager of the team in January 1968, nine
months prior to the Olympics being held in Mexico.
This was Atif’s
first major assignment although he had been manager in 1965 and 1966 in
minor tournaments. The PHF fully supported Atif by arranging a tour of
Kenya, a strong team of that period, and Uganda as well as inviting
Kenya and Japan to Pakistan. Moreover they staged a seven-nation
festival tournament in Lahore.
matches helped Atif in building a strong combination. He made some
courageous decisions. During his previous managerial tenure, he
had unearthed a brilliant right-in, Ashfaq, literally from the roadside,
who had exceptional ball control and stick work. But he had been
sidelined since 1966. Ashfaq was brought back.
Saeed Anwar had been
playing as a centre-half since the departure of Anwaar Ahmad Khan. Atif
brought him back to his original right-half position to bolster the
Young Riaz, who had
been a reserve, was made the number one centre-half where he gave an
outstanding performance in the defence as well as a distributor.
Abdul Rasheed Junior
was a right-in but Atif switched him to centre-forward and trained him
to be a poacher.
Fazal-ur-Rahman was a
great left-half and unlike conventional left-halves, an attacking one.
On the other hand, Gulraiz Akhtar was not so flashy but only adhered to
the prime task of defence.
It was a bold move to
prefer Gulraiz over the popular Fazal, who was taken as a reserve.
Left-out Jahangir Butt
was mainly played as the fourth half to assist the defence. The main
emphasis on attack was on the right trio where right-half Saeed Anwar,
right-in Ashfaq and right-out Khalid Mahmood performed as a well-knit
Mexico is more than
7,000 feet above the sea level, so Pakistan’s training camp was held
at Lower Topa near the hill station of Murree. The team was thus well
prepared in every aspect.
In the opening match,
Pakistan raised alarm by trouncing the strong Dutch side 6-0, with
Rasheed Jr getting a hat-trick.
Though they beat
France by only 1-0, their superiority was never in doubt.
pool match was against Australia and at half-time it was 1-2. The
Pakistanis geared up in the second half with right-in Ashfaq in
particular making early inroads. Skipper Tariq Aziz converted two
penalty corners to see them through 3-2.
Then the Greenshirts
demolished Argentina 5-0. Britain, as usual, fought till the end before
succumbing 1-2. Pakistan qualified for the semifinals by routing
Malaysia 4-0. They won the last pool match against Kenya 2-1.
In the third
consecutive Olympics, they had won all the pool matches. Their
domination can be measured from the fact that they were five points
clear of the second-placed team in the pool.
their semifinal against West Germany, but as many as 11 penalty corners
were wasted. Both the full-backs, Tanveer Dar and Tariq Aziz, with six
and two goals off penalty corners respectively, had done well until then
but were hampered by the bumpy ground, which made the ball stoppage
One of Tariq’s
penalty corner strikes hit a German defender’s foot. But the resulting
penalty stroke was wasted by Saeed Anwar who pushed it straight on to
the goalkeeper’s body.
Even during extra-time
Pakistan’s best efforts remained fruitless. Finally, in the sudden
death period, Khalid Mahmood, perhaps the greatest right-out to play for
Paksitan, suddenly cut inside from the right gallery and beat three
defenders almost in a straight line to score an exceptional individual
In the final, Pakistan
met Australia who had created history by defeating India in the
semifinal, thus denying the latter a place in the final for the first
time in nine Olympic Games appearances.
Pakistan started well
and had better control of the game. In the 15th minute, their brilliant
right-in Ashfaq, after taking a ball from
the 25 yards, stepped aside Australia’s best full-back and
acting captain Brian Glencross before passing to centre-forward Rasheed
Jr who in his customary style put the ball into the net in a flash.
Early in the second
half, left-in Asad Malik got a golden chance from the top of the D,
again through a move from the right flank. He flicked the ball over the
goalkeeper but the Aussie left-half came from nowhere to clear the ball.
However, in the 46th
minute, the Australians equalised through a penalty corner conversion by
Once again, it fell to
the brilliance of Khalid Mahmood to create the gold medal winning goal.
In his characteristic style, he cut inside from the right gallery,
dribbled past an Aussie defender and passed the ball to the unmarked
Asad Malik, who scored with a reverse flick.
remarked about Khalid Mahmood that his crosses were so accurate and
precise as if he was drawing a line with a ruler. And this is how the
famous British hockey journalist Patrick Rowley summed up Pakistan’s
overall performance in the tournament: “The Pakistanis fully deserved
to win the gold medal for the second time. They played beautifully
controlled hockey throughout. They were never flashy, just massively
competent, masters in their defensive markings and brilliant at holding
and releasing the ball at the right moment in the attack. They made
hockey the simplest of all games.”
On return home, the
players were rewarded with cash as well as agricultural land in Southern
Goal-keepers: Zakir Hussain and Qazi Salahuddin. Full-backs- Tanveer
Dar, Tariq Aziz and Riazuddin. Half-backs: Saeed Anwar, Riaz Ahmad,
Gulraiz Akhtar, Fazal-ur-Rahman and Anwar Shah. Forwards: Khalid Mahmood,
Mohammad Ashfaq, Abdul Rasheed Jr, Asad Malik, Jahnagir Butt, Farooq
Khan, Tariq Niazi and Laeeq Ahmad.
Scorers: Abdul Rasheed
Jr 7 goals, Tanveer Dar 6, Asad Malik 5, Tariq Aziz 2, Tariq Niazi 2,
Khalid Mahmood 1, Ashfaq 1, Gulraiz 1, Riaz 1.