The 37th Champions Trophy starts in the Dutch city of Breda from June 23 with a mouth-watering clash between Pakistan and India. This will be the last edition of this prestigious hockey event which started in 1978.
Legendary hockey player Shahbaz Ahmad, currently serving as the Secretary General of Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), talks about the Champions Trophy in an interview with ‘The News on Sunday.
Shahbaz will always be remembered as one of the greatest hockey players of all time. He was a complete package: unbelievable speed with the ball, stick work and dribbling skills mesmerised everyone on the field and off it; goal getting passes were precise and he himself was a fine scorer. Playing at the left in spot during most of his long international career (1986-2002), he won the Player of the Tournament award more than any other player of his era. Most significantly, at the 1994 World Cup, when he captained his country to its last global title he was also declared the Player of the Tournament. He was also the captain at the 1992 Olympics when Pakistan last won an Olympic medal (bronze).
Following are the excerpts of his interview.
“Champions Trophy has always been a keenly anticipated event. For Pakistanis, its importance also lies in the fact that it was introduced by Air Marshal Nur Khan, a former President of PHF. Pakistan also donated the beautiful trophy. Then we hosted it 11 times, more than any other country, and it used to be a sort of festive time with the entire nation focused on the event.
“It was an annual tournament in our days. In the non-Olympic and non-World Cup years, Champions Trophy was the showpiece event of international hockey.
“Since, only the top six or seven countries participated, every match was fiercely competed. This is in contrast to the Olympics and World Cup, where the big teams usually have at least one light opponent in their pool.
“Champions Trophy was also a sort of an annual get together of world’s hockey stars. We made wonderful, lasting friendships.”
“Champions Trophy holds very fond memories for me.
“I had made my international debut in the bilateral series against India in February 1986 but my first big event was the Champions Trophy in April that year in Karachi. You can say the hockey world noticed Shahbaz Ahmed for the first time. In one of the matches, I managed a wonderful defence splitting run and on my back pass Hassan Sardar scored. The then president of Pakistan General Ziaul Haq was in the crowd. He immediately told Air Marshal Waqar Azeem, the president of the PHF, to award me a gold medal.
“I was a very skinny 19 years old at the time. On a lighter note, the country’s president also suggested that I be given a buffalo so as to get an abundant supply of milk.
“Though, Pakistan won the first two editions of the Champions Trophy, there was a long draught thereafter. Hence, it was a matter of great pride that I was the captain when Pakistan won the title for the third (and last time) in 1994.
“The year 1994 holds special importance in Pakistan hockey’s history. The country had not been able to win a big title since 1984. For the 1994 Champions Trophy in Lahore, preparations were made in full earnest. For the first time, Pakistan hired a foreign coach, Holland’s Hans Jorritsma. Video analysis was employed. A professional physical trainer from abroad was also inducted. All this paid off as we won the 16th Champions Trophy. Our people expected more. The momentum was carried on and Pakistan, under my captaincy, went on to lift the World Cup later that year.
“Memories aside, I have been told that I hold quite a few Pakistan records in this competition: 11 appearances, captained Pakistan six times, only Pakistani to win the Player of the Tournament award twice (1991 and 1992).
“Apart from the 1994 gold, I also have two silvers and three bronze from the Champions Trophy.”
“Things change in every sphere of the life. The annual event became biennial in 2012 to accommodate the FIH World Hockey League. Now, with the advent of the high-profile annual Hockey Pro League starting next year, there will be no window for the Champions Trophy. Does that mean end of the Champions Trophy? No, the Champions Trophy is alive – it has only evolved into the HPL. And the HPL has all the potential to be the game changer for hockey. Hopefully, the last edition of the Champions Trophy will be a memorable one,” he concludes.