Pakistan hockey team for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia shows one new name, Rana Sohail.
The highly promising forward is yet another product of Dar Hockey Academy, Pakistan’s finest hockey nursery. In fact, he is from the first batch of the Lahore-based academy. Sohail was only 10 when he became part of the Dar HA at the time of academy’s inception in 2006.
“I was born in a hockey atmosphere. My father Rana Riaz is a physical training instructor at the Model High School, Lahore. Hockey has always been father’s special love.”
All the three brothers played hockey, and at good level. The eldest Rana Zubair played mostly for WAPDA on the domestic circuit. He attended quite a few national camps but didn’t gain Pakistan selection. Zubair has appeared in leagues in Oman and Bangladesh. Rana Umair figured for Higher Education Commission and PTV in the national championships. However, his interest in studies meant the choice of hockey came a poor second to education. He went to university and did MSc.
Sohail, the youngest, was a precocious talent; a forward, who mostly plays at the centre forward position. “Dar Academy played a great role in my early years. Late Olympian Akhlaq Ahmed was a very hard working and meticulous trainer. I made two tours of Europe with the academy, in 2010 and 2011. We played against the young teams of top nations: Holland, Germany and Belgium. That experience was invaluable in polishing my skills.”
Soon, he was called for the national junior camp for the 2014 Youth Olympics. There was no looking back. After remaining part of all the next junior camps, he finally got the selectors’ nod in 2015. Then, he remained a regular feature in the national junior squads. Sohail played in Sultan of Johor Cup in 2015 and 2016. He was also a member of the team which finished second at the 2015 Junior Asia Cup.
“By reaching the final of the Junior Asia Cup, Pakistan qualified for the 2016 Junior World Cup. Then onwards, all our preparation was geared towards the Junior World Cup. The federation arranged tours of top European countries. In the summer of 2016, we played in Germany, Holland and Spain. That exposure came in handy as in the 2016 Sultan of Johor Cup we surprised everyone by reaching the final. It was Pakistan’s first ever podium finish in that under-21 competition, and importantly it came just a few weeks before the Junior World Cup in India. We were peaking at the right time.”
But unfortunately, Pakistan was deprived of participation in the 2016 Junior World Cup under bizarre circumstances.
Sohail regrets missing the mega show. “All the boys were ready for the big occasion and confident for a good show in India. It could have been a turning point for Pakistan hockey but fate thought otherwise.”
He has great words for Tahir Zaman, who was head coach during his time with the Pakistan junior team. “Tahir Zaman, the senior FIH coach and trainer, is well versed in the latest coaching methods. We learnt a lot from him, individually as well as collectively.”
His talent has attracted top domestic sides. Sohail played for PIA and WAPDA before joining his present team, Sui Southern Gas Company.
“I joined SSGC in 2016 and have appeared in their colours at the last two nationals. We finished third both the times. In 2017, SSGC were unlucky to lose the semi-finals on shootout. In the third-position game, I scored two goals in our 3-0 win. Here, again, I have been lucky to have a very good coach in Rana Zaheer.”
Further up the ladder was the national senior camp. He attended two camps, for the International Festival of Hockey in November 2017 and the one for the Oman tri-nation this February.
Finally arrived the moment the whole family had been waiting for. Selection for Pakistan’s national team.
Surprisingly for a striker, Sohail’s favourite player is Rashid, the holding midfielder of the current Pakistan team. “I admire him for his superb temperament and wonderful positioning and tackling.”
This scribe talked to a few coaches and connoisseurs about his strengths and weaknesses and was told that Sohail possesses the basic ingredients for the striker/centre forward: hunger for goal and one-on-one elimination skills plus good speed and ball control. But he needs to work on timely release of the ball in the circle and also to improve his reaction time when attempting on the goal.
Sohail is happy to earn full national colours. “Yes, it is a great honour. My family is also elated; a dream has come true. But I am not contented with it. My aim is to make a meaningful contribution to the national team’s journey back to the former glory.”
Sohail’s journey epitomises Dar Hockey Academy’s success. In a very short period, the academy has provided seven players to the national (senior) team and 21 to Pakistan’s age group/development sides.