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It has begun and we are not there!

Such is the sorry plight of Pakistan hockey that the four-time champions, who initiated the Hockey World Cup back in the seventies, failed to even make the cut for this year’s edition

It has begun and we are not there!

The 15th hockey World Cup began yesterday in The Hague, Holland. Unbelievably, Pakistan, the record four-time winners, are absent, having failed to qualify.

What makes it more unfortunate is the fact that it was Pakistan who not only first proposed a World Cup for hockey but also donated the magnificent trophy. Moreover, Pakistan also had the honour to win the first World Cup.

Here is the story: During the 1968 Olympics, there were implicit suggestions to do away with some team games.

Air Marshal Nur Khan, then president of the PHF, presented the idea of the hockey World Cup to the FIH, implying that if hockey were to survive as an Olympic sport and also become a truly universal game then just one world-level tournament, the Olympics, held only after four years, was not sufficient.

Hockey should take a cue from football and also have its own World Cup, he proposed.

There were apprehensions among the FIH members that hockey being an amateur sport might not be able to sustain such an event.

The confident Pakistani camp assured that the desire to host the World Cup will be such that it will become difficult for the FIH to choose from among the applicants wanting to hold the tournament. Later events gave credence to these predictions.

Eventually, the FIH agreed and it was decided to hold the first World Cup in 1971 in the country which gave the idea — Pakistan. The World Cup trophy was also designed by Pakistan, a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Carved out of gold, silver and ivory, it exhibits a hockey stick and ball sticking on top of an embellished big globe.

The inaugural World Cup was to be staged in Lahore but the political situation in Pakistan after the general elections of 1970 got tense and the tournament was moved to Barcelona, Spain, in October 1971.

Pakistan, the reigning Olympics as well as the Asian champions, were widely regarded as the favourites. However, their fortunes followed a script apparently drawn from an Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense movie.

They set off by trouncing the 1968 Olympics silver medallists Australia 5-2. Their hero was the burly full-back Tanveer Dar, who converted three penalty corners to register the first-ever hat-trick in the annals of the World Cup.

The next day, Dar found the redoubtable Japanese goalkeeper Otsuka impenetrable. Of the ten penalty corners, he managed to convert only one and Pakistan achieved a hard-earned 1-0 win. Otsuka was destined to play an important role in Pakistan’s progress later in the tourney.

Dar recharged his batteries and slammed his second hat-trick in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Holland.

In the highly-anticipated last pool match between Pakistan and the hosts, Spain, the packed stadium went berserk when the home team took a 2-0 lead.

But Pakistan fought back gallantly to draw level. Just two minutes from the end, Spain’s captain Pablo Amat managed the match winner through a disputed penalty corner. Pakistan lodged an official protest against the penalty corner award decision but had the mortification of forfeiting the deposit of 200 Swiss Franks as the protest was rejected.

Hence, Pakistan were on the brink of missing out the semi-final of an international tournament for the first time in their history. Their fate depended on the result of the Holland-Japan encounter. If Holland were to win — which almost everyone anticipated — it would be the end of the journey for the Green-shirts. In case of a draw they would have to wait even longer, for the outcome of the Spain-Australia duel.

What transpired during the Holland-Japan tie was unbelievable. The Dutch thoroughly dominated but the Japanese net-minder Otsuka was simply unbeatable. The Dutch could not find their way in despite getting no less than 19 penalty corners while Japan managed to score the solitary goal of the match — ironically on a penalty-corner.

Pakistan sneaked into the semi-final.

A highly thankful Pakistan squad gifted the Japanese players with Pakistan-made high quality hockey sticks.

Their opponents in the pre-final were traditional rivals, India. The semi-finals were not staged in Barcelona but in the nearby industrial town of Terrasa, where hockey players are revered like soccer stars.

India drew the first blood when spearhead Rajvinder Singh put them ahead. Just before the half, defender Tanveer Dar sent a ball scooping deep into the Indian territory. The legendary predator Rasheed Jr sprinted to pounce upon the ball and in his characteristic style sent the ball into the cage in a flash. The goal provider Dar jumped in jubilation but in the process dislocated his knee and had to be carried off the ground.  This was a major blow for he was responsible for no less than eight of the total eleven goals scored by Pakistan in the pool matches.

A penalty-corner came Pakistan’s way in the second half. As the other penalty corner taker Akhtar ul Islam was already not playing in the match (debarred for ill-discipline), Pakistan’s captain Khalid Mahmood had no option but to call the 19-year-old Munawwar uz Zaman to step forward.

It was Munawwar’s second international game and the first penalty corner strike! The youngster responded magnificently by scoring the match-winner.

In the final, Pakistan again came across the hosts. A mammoth crowd thronged the hockey stadium of Real Club de Polo in bright sunshine.

Having served the ban, Akhatarul Islam was back in the side. And the giant-sized Akhtar scored the historic solitary goal, also off a penalty corner, in the final of the first World Cup.

In the match for the third position, India defeated the surprise package Kenya 2-1. The African team comprised Punjabis of Indo-Pak origin, mostly Sikhs.

Three Pakistanis, half back Fazal and forwards Asad Malik and Shahnaz Sheikh were named in the World XI at the conclusion of the World Cup.

Who was the goal keeper of that XI? The man who made it all possible for the eventual winners, Otsuka of Japan — also declared the player of the tournament.

Tailpiece: The youngest member of that Pakistani team, Akhtar Rasool, later achieved the dubious distinction of being the manager cum head coach of the Pakistani team which failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

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