Pakistan once had a strong standing on the Asian volleyball circuit, particularly in the 1960s.
In 1961, Pakistan won a three-nation international tournament by beating Japan, a strong side which is now the Asian champion, 3-2 in the final in Karachi. Indonesia was the third side. In 1962, Pakistan won their first major medal when they clinched bronze in the fourth Asian Games held in Jakarta,
Indonesia. In 1989, Pakistan finished fourth in the Asian Volleyball Championship in Seoul, South Korea.
But gradually the country lost its status in the game due to various reasons.
Recently, the Green-shirts finished 12th in the 19th Asian Championship held at the Tridharma Petrochemical Sports Stadium, Gresik, East Java, Surabaya, Indonesia, when they went 1-3 down against Thailand in the 11th place game. The set scores were 25-23, 18-25, 25-18, 25-18 in favour of Thailand.
Pakistan missed a quarter-final berth when they lost their first two games, against Chinese Taipei and Iran.
Pakistan went miserably 0-3 down against Chinese Taipei, without showing any resistance, which was quite unexpected from the side led by senior pro Naseer Ahmed, who has vast experience of playing in foreign leagues for the last one decade.
The set scores were 25-17, 25-16, 25-14 in favour of
Chinese Taipei, who ended seventh.
The Green-shirts also lost to Iran 25-23, 25-22 and 25-14.
However, in the third group game, Pakistan beat Iraq 3-1 with the set scores of 26-14, 25-17, 17-25 and 25-22 to finish third.
In the classification round, Pakistan came from 0-2 down to beat weak Hong Kong 3-2. The set scores were 21-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-21, 15-6.
But in the next outing, Pakistan lost to Thailand in straight sets in a hotly-contested game with the set scores of 25-18, 26-24, 25-23.
In the 9th to 12th place semi-finals, Pakistan were beaten by Qatar 3-2 with the set scores of 25-19, 20-25, 17-25, 25-18, 15-12. In the 11th place game, they were again beaten by Thailand with an enviable ease.
Despite facing numerous issues during the last few years, it was not expected that Pakistan would perform so poorly.
Pakistan could not even maintain their position. In the previous event, they had finished tenth.
The top-eight teams of the 16-team biennial event had the experience of playing in the European League and were well-settled for the continent’s major competitions which were ultimately won by Japan who defeated Kazakhstan 3-1 in the final.
If we carefully analyse Pakistan’s progress in the Indonesia event, we will find that the team’s performance was erratic.
The boys lacked mental strength. They played well in a few sets. After losing miserably to Chinese Taipei, they showed marked improvement in the first two sets against Iran.
Similarly, after conceding the first two sets against minnows Hong Kong, Pakistan fought back strongly to sweep the next three sets to seal a tough victory.
Before going into the event, Pakistan featured in a three-nation tournament in Doha, involving Oman and Qatar. Then hardly a day before the start of the Asian Championship, Pakistan won a warm-up game against hosts Indonesia who finished fourth in the competitions. And it was expected that the Green-shirts would do well.
In May, Pakistan played a few good games, particularly against Turkey in the Islamic Games in Baku. And the team also showed resolve in the World Championship qualifiers in Kyrgyzstan. I mean to say that the team had got ample exposure and needed to end gracefully in the Asian Championship.
During the Asian Championship, I saw a Whatsapp post from Pakistan’s Iranian coach Hamid Movahedi on a public page which said that Pakistani players think about all other things but not volleyball. What I get from his statement is that Pakistani players lack professional approach. And it is a key factor. Pakistani players will have to change their approach. They should act as professionals and should not limit themselves only to their jobs in their departments but should train as professionals do.
Movahedi was also not happy when the players were allowed to go to their homes to spend Eid-ul-Fitr with their families as that broke their momentum.
Pakistan will need to broaden its base if it wants to form a fighting lot. In 2008, Pakistan’s Iranian coach Ali Reza Moameri told me that Iran selects its team from among 400 players. Pakistan forms its team from among 30 players.
Pakistan Volleyball Federation (PVF) will not only have to manage sponsors but will also need substantial and constant state support.
Pakistan also needs its own pro league. Although there is a plan of such a league, I have doubts. The company which has decided to go for volleyball league has not been able to even launch a kabaddi league which it wanted to start early this year.
Foreign players’ induction would be of immense importance in the league so that the local stuff could learn.
International exposure also needs to be boosted. The team needs at least 50 matches in a year which is not possible without state patronage.
Moreover, Pakistan should extend coach Movahedi’s contract for two years. He seems serious and if he is given more time he will be able to build a strong side and prepare a solid pool of coaches.
Movahedi’s six-month contract expires next month and the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) should think about the issue.
Pakistan volleyball team also needs the services of a nutrition specialist so that the players could be kept energised during the competitions.