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No light at the end of tunnel

Pakistan junior team’s pathetic showing in an invitational event in Malaysia underlines the fact that the revival of our hockey is nowhere in sight

No light at the end of tunnel

The national junior team’s pathetic show at the recent Sultan of Johor tournament in Johor Bahru (Malaysia) once again showed that the revival of Pakistan hockey is nowhere in sight. There were India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the hosts Malaysia featuring in the invitational tournament. And the Green-shirts finished at the bottom, failing to win even a single match: they lost four and drew two. They also lost the play-off for the fifth position.

Ever since the duo of Akhtar Rasool and Rana Mujahid has taken over, the PHF is crying hoarse over lack of funds, but as many as four assistant coaches accompanied the team as well as a video analyst. That was perhaps necessary to placate both the groups: the PHF’s cronies and the estranged Olympians, who patched up with the federation only a few months back after a long confrontation. Each had a representation of two: Rehan Butt and M Irfan from the PHF camp, and Qamar Ibrahim and Kamran Ashraf from the other side.

That ‘muk-muka’ was the only factor in the choice of these coaches is borne out by the fact that both Rehan and Qamar were specialist right-outs during their playing days, while Irfan and Kamran played as centre-forwards. Any follower of sports knows that in a sport like hockey or football, the coaching assistants are picked from different positions — forward, midfielder, defender — so as to cover all the areas.

The above arrangement for the national junior team only invited chaos — right from the beginning. In the opening game, Great Britain humbled them 5-0. It was Pakistan’s worst-ever defeat against them at any level, senior or junior.

The same dubious record was achieved against arch-rivals India. This time the score line was 6-0. It was no wonder then that Pakistan were repeatedly termed by the media as the whipping boys of the tournament.

Apart from getting the wooden spoon, Pakistan conceded the highest number of goals (20) and scored the least (6). India not only lifted the cup but also provided the best player as well as the top scorer of the tournament. It is pertinent to mention that many top hockey nations were absent at Johor Bahru for this invitational tournament, including Germany (reigning world junior champions), Holland, Belgium (European junior champions), France (surprise finalists at the last year’s junior World Cup) and Argentina (winner of all the 10 Pan American junior championships).

As has been the practice, the shameless hockey officials are coming out with all sorts of nonsensical excuses:

Excuse no 1: ours boys lacked experience.

As many as 15 members of the Indian junior team travelled out of their country for the first time ever. On the other hand, six members of Pakistan’s junior squad (Nohaiz Zahid Malik, Muhammad Atiq, Mubashir Ali, Shan Irshad, Azfar Yaqoob and Bilal Mehmood) had been part of the national team which had participated at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China in August this year.

Excuse no 2: The team only had 10 days for preparation.

Whose fault is this? Obviously the PHF and the team management are responsible for this.

Excuse no. 3: We had brought a young team with under-19 boys for this under-21 event as the PHF has the next junior World Cup in mind:

It was federation’s decision; no one had compelled them. This act brought humiliation. It is worth mentioning that apart from a couple of sides, most of the other nations had also fielded young teams with the same aim. Then we all know about our ‘age group’ teams. At the last national under-16 national championships, the scribe heard the tournament organiser saying, “It is good to see that at least around 60 of the total 450 players in the championships appear to be actually under 16 years of age.”

Who was in charge of Pakistan’s junior squad? No one else but Manzoor-ul Hassan, the manager-cum-head coach. He held the same position when Pakistan finished worst ever ninth at the 2013 junior World Cup. Yes, the same Manzoor-ul Hassan, who, when given the charge of the junior squad last year, informed the media, “My only link with hockey over the last decade has been through TV and newspapers.” Yet, he was given the position. The only reason to bring Manzoor from the wilderness was his decades-long association with Akhtar Rasool, the PHF president.

The PHF has been taking great pride in Pakistan’s silver medal won at the 2014 Asian Games. Only three nations have ever won the gold at the Asian Games: Pakistan, India and South Korea. Devoid of much competition, the serious business at the Asiad hockey starts only from the semi-final stage. Pakistan were a better side against Malaysia. The match went to the penalty shoot-out which Pakistanis managed to win. The final between Pakistan and India also failed to produce a result in the playing time. Here, India had the better of exchanges in the 60 minutes, and also got more scoring opportunities. Again poetic justice prevailed and India won the gold in the shootout.

Pakistan lost the only title in possession. They were defeated by the traditional rivals in the Asian Games’ hockey final for the first time since 1966.

More importantly, they lost the chance to grab an automatic place in the next Olympics: now they have to go through the arduous and tense phase of qualification.

Remember, their failure to win the Asia Cup in 2013 had also deprived Pakistan to get an automatic slot in the 2014 World Cup. Then they failed in the qualification process as well and hence were absent at the World Cup, for the first time in history. There appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

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