Sixth spot in London will be big
write off Bengalis
value of silverware
What’s wrong with PHF?
With things falling apart just months before the London Games, Pakistan’s hockey chiefs need some extensive soul-searching
By Khalid Hussain
Rehan Butt managed to put up a brave face as he packed his bags and left for India to be a part of a rebel league that was guaranteeing him more money for a month’s work than he had earned during the best part of his Pakistan career. The seasoned striker was well aware of the fact that he was crossing the line and committing a ‘breach’ that could prove to be the last nail in the coffin of his international career.
Shakeel Abbasi’s is a similar story. The mercurial forward decided to join Butt at World Series Hockey (WSH), a lucrative yet unsanctioned league in spite of clear warning from the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) that any player with links to WSH will be slapped with a lengthy ban. Even hints that he could be Pakistan’s captain for the London Games couldn’t force the Quetta player to change his mind.
And it keeps getting worse for Pakistan hockey.
Michel van den Heuvel, Pakistan’s Dutch coach, failed to turn up for the first phase of his team’s Olympic training camp in Lahore earlier this month. Having made up his mind to quit as Pakistan’s coach after the London Games, the Dutchman instead opted to sign up with a club in Europe. In response, PHF sacks him and brings in Akhtar Rasool, the former Pakistan captain, to supervise the rest of their Olympic preparations.
These latest setbacks follow a bitter war of words that brought top officials of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) and a growing group of former Olympians on the verge of a legal battle.
All of these negative developments are adding up and any hopes Pakistan had of ending their medal drought at the Olympic Games are disappearing fast. Ask the hockey pundits and they will tell you that Pakistan have little or no chance of reaching the semifinals of the Olympic hockey tournament in London this summer.
This pessimism is backed by the fact that Pakistan have just suffered a series of setbacks after a humiliating seventh-place finish at the 2011 Champions Trophy in Auckland last December. They have lost their best player (Abbasi) and their coach (Van dev Heuvel). They have brought in Akhtar Rasool to pull them out of what is now a neck-deep crisis. Whether Akhtar, who did a poor job during his tenure as PHF president, will pull off a miracle within a short span of four months remains to be seen.
So what’s wrong with the PHF?
Talk to Qasim Zia, the PHF president, or the secretary Asif Bajwa and they will tell you that under them the federation has done more for Pakistan hockey than during any other era in the history of the game.
Both of them are former Olympians and have been a part of Pakistan hockey during its glory days. Qasim was a part of the Pakistan team that won the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. That was the last of Pakistan’s three Olympic titles. Bajwa was a team member when Pakistan stunned their rivals to regain the World Cup in 1994 in Sydney. It was the last of Pakistan’s four World Cup crowns.
Hopes were high with the duo at the reins and to be true, initial signs weren’t bad. Qasim’s position as a senior leader of the ruling PPP certainly helped as PHF managed to fill its coffers through special grants from the government to private sponsorship.
For the first time in its history, PHF awarded central contracts to the country’s top hockey players. It intensified efforts to boost junior hockey by setting up academies and sending national teams for age-group tournaments abroad quite regularly.
But on the flipside, PHF chiefs failed miserably in developing a working relationship with most of the game’s legendary stalwarts. Former stars like Shahnaz Sheikh, Islahuddin Siddiqui and Samiullah became bitter critics of PHF’s policies. Almost any move made by the PHF met with disapproval as a group of former Olympians became convinced that the Qasim-Bajwa partnership was doomed to fail.
“They are too inexperienced and yet too full of themselves. It’s a deadly combination for our hockey,” a former Olympian once told me.
On their part, Qasim and Bajwa rejected the criticism as ‘personal vendetta’. “They (ex-Olympians) just want power,” they would say.
Back in 2010, when Pakistan plunged to an embarrassing last-place finish at the 12-nation World Cup in New Delhi, the former Olympians called for heads to roll. But Qasim and Co survived that debacle because of the PHF chief’s strong political connections.
The PHF top brass received a new lease of life when Pakistan went on to regain the Asian Games crown for the first time in 20 years in December 2010 in Guangzhou (China). Even many of the team’s critics acknowledged that the result could serve to be a game-changer for Pakistan hockey.
Unfortunately for Pakistan hockey that didn’t happen. For a variety of reasons, the PHF failed to capitalise on the Guangzhou triumph despite the fact that it has pumped hundreds of millions of rupees into Pakistan hockey, most of which came from the tax-payers.
Personally, I believe arrogance could be the prime reason why the current PHF set-up has failed to deliver the goods. In the post Guangzhou period, some of the senior PHF officials became a bit too arrogant feeling that a gold medal at the Asian Games will silence their critics once and for all.
Over the last few years, several leading players have confided in me that the attitude of a couple of senior PHF officials causes too much resentment among the players. “They (PHF officials) have double standards when dealing with players. They have a few blue-eyed boys while the rest of us are treated like dirt. For some of us it’s unacceptable,” Rehan Butt told me just hours before he left for India to play in the WSH.
Butt predicted disaster for Pakistan at the Olympic Games, stressing that unless PHF changes its approach things will only worsen for Pakistan hockey.
And he had a point.
Things are falling apart for Pakistan hockey whether Qasim or Bajwa admit it or not.
They believe that Pakistan will start showing their true colours at the 2014 World Cup to be played in the Netherlands. They believe that Pakistan should show some patience.
Patience is certainly a good virtue. But sometimes there is a thin line between patience and procrastination. At the moment, the top item on PHF’s menu should be damage control. Rather than shying away from high-priority issues that include taking a quick decision on the fates of players like Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi, the PHF should take the bull by the horns.
For the last three years, the duo of Qasim Zia and Asif Bajwa have enjoyed absolute control over national hockey matters. But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility.
It is time that the PHF starts taking full responsibility for its actions and learn from its past mistakes. It shouldn’t waste much time in changing its game plan because the clock is ticking for Pakistan hockey.
Although Pakistan will participate in more than one discipline in the London Olympics, the country is pinning its medal hopes on hockey because of its rich record of three gold, three silver and two bronze medals. Since 1984 when the country won a gold medal the national hockey team has been unable to achieve any remarkable result except the bronze medal in 1992 Olympics. In the last Olympics in Beijing, Pakistan secured the 8th position — its worst ever performance.
The forthcoming Olympic Games is a big challenge for the hockey authorities of the country because of the mess they have created.
Although Pakistan qualified for London by winning Asian Games 2010, the performance of the team has remained highly unsatisfactory ever since, especially against Europeans. The team remained at the bottom in World Cup and Commonwealth Games in 2010 and got the seventh position at last December’s Champions’ Trophy in New Zealand.
Keeping in view this performance during the last two years the chances of a top-four finish as claimed by Pakistan Hockey Federation are very bleak.
The absence of the Shakeel Abbasi and Rehan Butt due to their participation in World Series Hockey in India has further weakened the position of the country. Strangely, PHF hopes to have good replacement of these seniors — they are even calling their absence a blessing in disguise.
Former Olympians had advised PHF to replace senior players after winning the 2010 Asian Games, but no heed was paid to their suggestion.
It is certain that four teams of the top-eight of the world ranking will be part of each pool. Therefore, it will be very hard for Pakistan to find space in the top four because it requires beating three teams and getting one draw to get 10 points.
Wishful thinking can take you anywhere but ground realities predict something else. Preparing a new-look team for competing against strong teams in the Olympics is a poor idea. Pakistan will have only five or six matches in Azlan Shah Cup before the Games, which will be extremely insufficient to build a strong team for the mega event.
A training camp is in progress in Lahore, which is the first phase of the preparation for the games while other nations are in the final phase of their training.
PHF axed three senior players, including the captain just five months before the Olympics. Another setback was suffered when chief coach Michael and two most senior players Abbasi and Butt were eliminated from the preparation. Thus PHF has as usual failed to handle the situation whereas Hockey India resolved the issue by offering eight Indian players cash which was enough for them to disregard WHS. Had PHF showed maturity and compensated the Pakistani players in a similar way they would not have gone to the league.
In my opinion, Pakistani players’ decision to join WSH is a reaction to the treatment they have been meted out in the last two years by the selectors.
If someone says that Pakistan will achieve a reasonable result in the Olympics, he is certainly being overly optimistic.
Sustaining pressure is key to a good result in a major event like the Olympics.
The statement of chief coach Michael van den Heuvel that there was ample time for preparation for Olympic Games was a big joke. His statements that his job is to provide coaching only and that the results were none of his concern were astounding. These statements from a coach who has been with the team for the last more than one year are enough to understand the position of Pakistan in the Olympics hockey.
In my opinion, he wanted to get rid of the responsibility of the team’s performance after seeing the performance of the team in the Champions Trophy.
As a Pakistani, I wish the national hockey team success in the Olympic Games, but as a technocrat I think it will not be possible for the new team management to bring any desired result.
Now that Akhtar Rasool has accepted this challenging task for the deep love of the game, I would like to advise him to use the little time left by designing long duration in-camp training with three daily training sessions and maximum team training to improve match temperament. The weaknesses of the team in ball handling, off the ball movement and bad ball watching should be given most priority.
The zonal attacking play should be priority because it is the key to good results.
If Pakistan secured 5th or 6th position in the Olympics, it would be a big achievement. Otherwise a better result than 2008 Olympics would be enough for PHF to go on. Good luck Akhtar and the team!
The inaugural Bangladesh Premier League which concluded recently was dominated by foreign players, especially Pakistanis. But the league also showcased the potential of the Bengalis. A number of home players performed admirably well against some of the world’s top stars, telling the world that the Bangladesh cricket is just about to come of age.
Shakib Al Hasan was hugely impressive with his average of 40 with the bat and his 15 wickets from 11 games (he was the third-highest wicket-taker).
Mushfiqur Rahim scored 234 runs at a handsome average of 39. Nasir Hossain, Mahmudullah and Anamul Haq also made their presence felt.
Elias Sunny was the most impressive among the bowlers as he took 17 wickets from 12 games at a miserly average of less than 15.
Enamul Haq Jnr, the 25-year-old left-arm spinner, also bowled splendidly and got 13 wickets from nine matches at an average of 14. Arafat Sunny, who is yet to play an international match, also told the world what he is capable of delivering with 11 wickets from 10 matches.
These performances should be enough to silence those critics who want Bangladesh to be stripped of their Test status. They should open the eyes of the people who have been unduly critical of their performance in the international arena.
Some may say that T20 cricket is much different from Tests. Yes, it is, but their performance in T20 format tells us that they are capable of playing good cricket and that they can go on and improve themselves at the Test level too.
The critics should also consider that Sri Lanka were granted Test status in 1981 and they continued to be a below-average side for fourteen long years. It was not before late 1995 that they began to be perceived as a threatening side by the major Test-playing teams. Why shouldn’t Bangladesh who have been in the Test arena for only eleven years continue to play Tests?
It is true that their international record so far has not been impressive. Their success ratio is much lower than it should have been. But people should consider that they have started winning.
They beat West Indies in West Indies in the two-match Test series and three-match one-day series in 2009. They beat New Zealand 4-0 in a One-day International series. They have been defeating Zimbabwe for quite sometime. And none of the associate team is better than them, including Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, Netherlands and Canada.
Now the question is: what should Bangladesh cricket authorities do to improve their standing in Test cricket? In my opinion, they replicate the English county system. They should hire seasoned international players to play first-class cricket in their country as players-cum-coaches. That will help their youngsters learn the tricks of the game before they even enter the Test arena.
For this purpose, those players will be most suitable who have recently retired or are no longer being considered by their selectors such as Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Mohammad Yousuf. They need to spend money on signing such players. That will be the best investment for their cricket.
Known as the ‘Game of Lords’, cricket has traditionally been played and watched more keenly than it has been governed and managed. It was only after the mid-nineties when commercial interest started becoming significant in cricket, which led to the evolution of a proper governance and management structure.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) started taking shape as a proper organisation and began to control and regulate the game more effectively, focusing on all the facets of its management, a role which had traditionally been played by the MCC.
This journey may not be very long in terms of number of years, but certainly is a giant leap considering the impact on the game itself. Undoubtedly, the transformation of cricket to the present day jazzy, fast and entertaining bonanza is one of the most remarkable turnarounds the world has ever seen in any sport.
Like any other reputable international organisation, it seems that the ICC had a very clear and defined vision as to what direction they wanted to set for cricket in the years to come. This clarity of the vision has done a great deal to bring the game in its present shape and status, and is expected to take it a long way in the coming years.
Putting in place and adhering to an appropriate structure of governance is something that steers an organisation with the required solidarity, credibility and objectivity. ICC has managed to achieve this. The ICC Executive Board that includes representatives from all member boards forms a very fine mix of technocrats from diversified disciplines and markets. This ensures that all the guidelines, policy decisions, rules and regulations are made with utmost transparency and independence.
Similarly, a proper management hierarchy creates the backbone of any organisation. The ICC’s present management makeup caters to all the requirements of making it an efficient institution. This multi-tier management system that covers every discipline of a functional organisation is one of the best amongst all sports organisations around the globe.
Let me discuss now the salient features of this management structure. Cricket operations and game development are the core functions, which are managed by top quality cricket administrators and coaches, respectively. Appropriate fund allocations are made towards managing and promoting all three formats of the game, and at the same time developing cricket in new regions.
All other management disciplines revolve around the core functions to support flawless execution. These include financial management and accounting; human resource and administration; media and communications; legal and corporate affairs; and marketing.
In order to ensure the spirit of fair play, support units of anti corruption and security, anti-doping, and anti-racism have also been established.
In today’s era of economic challenges, it is most important for the financial viability of any organisation that its resources are exploited most effectively. Such is the case with ICC. Last decade saw the most significant commercial success in the game of cricket. Major factors influencing this impact are the commercial deals and contracts the regulators of the game have sealed, especially for the long-term broadcast and sponsorship rights.
Now the first and foremost objective of ICC should be to protect and maintain the existing levels of excellence. The ICC needs to fortify its existing position in terms of governance; fine-tuning the governing system with probably a little more focus on consistency and continuity.
On management side, it must maintain the already established structure as well as focus on protecting the core operations from threats like security issues, corruption attempts and unfair practices.
For resource development, it has to keep maximising the commercial revenues from the existing markets with the existing properties while at the same time start planning to develop new properties and explore newer markets.
writer is a former marketing chief of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and
Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United were knocked out of the Champions League and the Europa League, the latter two facing the ignominy of defeat to clubs much smaller in stature, while Chelsea put in a dogged performance to see themselves edge past Napoli and ensure some English representation in the final stages of the Champions League. Liverpool secured a trophy in what their own fans had labelled ‘the Mickey Mouse Cup’ some years ago, and that too after a round of penalties they had not deserved to reach, outplayed and outmanoeuvred as they were in the final against Cardiff. Still, as it stands, Liverpool have added something to their trophy cabinet this year, and can claim to have ended the silverware drought of the past half a decade. So far, none of the other clubs mentioned above can say the same for this season.
Both Manchester clubs are in contention for the Premier League title, and given their exits from all cup competitions, this position leaves them teetering on the brink with the very real possibility of ending the season without any trophy to haul. This makes the two clubs’ Europa League performances all the more bemusing.
United clearly underestimated the value of an Athletic Bilbao team with Marcelo Bielsa at the reins. A proponent of a fluid attacking football style, Bielsa reinvented the methodology of a Bilbao side who, when he took charge, were reputed as the most direct and ‘English-like’ in their approach to attacking. This is not so anymore, as was exhibited by the tremendous work rate shown by the Basque side over both legs of the tie. The warning shot was sounded early on in the first leg, as the Spaniards pressed high up the pitch and on the flanks, restricting United to a narrow attacking line down the middle of the pitch, and not letting their wingers through on the flanks. United only looked threatening on the few occasions where they were able to move the ball down the outside channels, into space behind the marauding Bilbao full backs. United were getting bullied in the middle of the park, with Bilbao players pressing constantly and not allowing Giggs and Jones to settle on the ball.
Sir Alex Ferguson does appear to have a preference for winning the Premier League than he does the Europa League, and this could go some way in explaining his team selection against Bilbao. The central defensive pairing of Smalling and Evans has some way to go till they become a rock like the Ferdinand/Vidic combination, and they were exposed in their failure to deal with a tough, physical centre forward in the form of Fernando Llorente. Bilbaoís manic man-marking tactics ensured that neither Rooney nor Hernandez could do much, and with their attacking edge blunted, United were dominated, something that rarely happens to them, if ever. The tie was effectively over even before the match in Bilbao, and it would be up to United to change their approach if they wanted to salvage anything. As it turned out, the few changes they did make proved ineffective as well. Cleverley’s deployment on the right flank meant he was out of his natural position in the centre of midfield, and Park’s role in centre midfield meant he and Cleverley had swapped places from where they would have been expected to play. Carrick and Giggs are clearly not suited to games of such high tempo, where extensive running off the ball is required, coupled with little time on it. United were again stifled in midfield, leaving the more viable option of lofting a ball over the high defensive line set out by Bielsa. However, with Wellbeck and Hernandez left out of the team, this just left Rooney, who is always more effective as a ball playing attacker, and not just one to pick up on long balls over the defence. The match ended with Rooney curling a beautiful shot into the Bilbao goal, but that was mere conciliation after another night where United were played off the pitch.
Manchester City fared little better, falling to Lisbon on away goals. City’s performance, though, was less a product of their Lisbon’s strategy than it was of their own shortcomings. The redeeming feature of their failure is that it was to a side, who look to attack more than defend, and this was eventually exposed by City in the last half hour of the second leg. By this time, City had finally risen to the occasion, using the width of the pitch to good advantage as they raided the Lisbon penalty area with diagonal runs and passes, to good effect. Lisbon’s attacking approach paid heavy dividends early on, as they snatched two quick away goals to force City into attacking mode. The enigmatic Balotelli was unpredictable as ever, first hitting a ball forcefully into the stands after missing his shot, and following this up by shoving Fernandez to the ground for the foul which led to a goal off the resulting free kick. City only came to life when pushed against the wall by Lisbon’s two away goals, and the resulting attacking frenzy was proof of what this side are capable of, although they were unable to do enough to seal a win. City do have a taste for the dramatic though, and they were inches away from serving up such a poetic finale as Joe Hart’s header was pushed away from goal by his opposite number with the last touch of the tie.
With Tottenham’s chances of taking the Premier League title all but evaporated now, it is a two horse race between the two Manchester clubs, and one wonders if their failure to succeed in cup competitions will focus or demoralise them. As for Arsenal and Chelsea, they have one trophy each left to fight for, the FA Cup and the Champions League respectively, while they are in a fight, as are Liverpool, to secure European football for next season. While the protagonists have not changed, this is a more exciting season in English football than many previous ones, as the top teams have to make heavy decisions as they try to balance financial aims for the future, as promised by continued European football, with more immediate desires for silverware. It would be quite an act of juggling to secure both.