I will choose to begin what will surely turn into a sad obituary of Pakistan hockey on a happy note. Before commenting on the Antwerp heartbreak, let’s first talk about our Pallekele triumph and what it means for Pakistan cricket. Not even the most ardent of Pakistani fans believed that our team, with its spineless batting line-up, was capable of chasing down a mammoth target of 377. But with Younis Khan in sublime form and the young Shan Masood showing his true colours, everything seemed possible for Pakistan. In the end, the duo broke a series of records and guided Pakistan to what will always be remembered as one of their most famous series-winning triumphs.
Pakistan’s 382 was their highest score in the fourth innings of a Test and the sixth highest successful chase in Test history. Their hero was Younis Khan, the man whom many rejected as spent force ahead of and during the Test series against Sri Lanka. His 171 was yet another match-winning knock from a batsman, who has once again underlined the fact that he is one of the most accomplished batters of the modern era.
Younis didn’t just score his runs the former captain was also one of the prime reasons why Shan managed to register his maiden Test ton. The left-handed opener has always regarded Younis as his mentor and made full use of the veteran batsman’s experience to compile a superb innings of 125. Together, the pair accumulated 242 runs which is the fourth highest in a successful chase.
The fact that Pakistan are known to be perennial chokers when it comes to run-chases makes the victory all the more difficult to comprehend. Personally, I believe the stunning result was achieved primarily by a strong-willed man, who had a point to prove. It was Younis Khan’s determination that helped Pakistan pull off a historic win despite all odds. Under pressure following a series of low scores, Younis knew that it was time to deliver. I’m not saying that they would have dumped him from the Tests after another failure but in Pakistan cricket you never know. But Younis wasn’t scared. Big, Everest-like big challenges only bring the best out of him and that’s what happened at Pallekele. They say luck favour the brave and Younis was lucky that he found an excellent, reliable partner in Shan.
Almost around the same time when Pakistan’s sports fraternity was left pleasantly surprised by what transpired at Pallekele, it was simultaneously trying to digest a shocking piece of news that came from Belgium.
In Antwerp, Pakistan made a mess of a seemingly easy target: winning a berth for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. All that Pakistan needed to do was to finish in the top-five of the ten-nation contest that featured minnows like China, Poland, France and Ireland. But after a series of poor results, Pakistan slumped to an eighth-place finish thus squandering their last chance of making the cut for the Rio Games.
Till a few years ago, it seemed almost unthinkable to have a Hockey World Cup or an Olympic hockey event without Pakistan. But that is what has happened. Four-time champions Pakistan failed to qualify for World Cup 2014 held in The Netherlands and now they are out of the Olympics.
After having reached dizzying heights of success our hockey has plunged into the dark abyss of failure and disappointment. Instead of some outside forces ruining it for us it’s our own fault that the country’s national game is breathing its last.
For years, we have been ignoring warning signs that all’s not well in Pakistan hockey. In many ways, Pakistan’s title-winning victory in the 1984 Los Angeles Games marked the beginning of the end of our glory days. Because it was soon after winning the gold that our hockey officialdom made a series of ruthless and sweeping changes which dealt fatal blows to the game in this country. Ironically, men like the late Brig MH Atif who were instrumental in Pakistan’s rise as the world’s best hockey team in the seventies, were responsible for its downfall in the mid eighties. More recently, men like Akhtar Rasool – one of the legends of the game – have caused irreparable damage to Pakistan hockey. Now in his second term as president of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), Akhtar Rasool has nothing to show but a set of vested interest elements, who are guiding our hockey to absolute disaster.
But men like Rasool are just part of the problem. Pakistan hockey’s problem is that over the years it has been used as a tool by successive rulers. Dictators like Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq gloated over the various triumphs of the national hockey team. They handpicked officials and made sure that the PHF would be run according to their own whims and fancies.
That culture continues as the national hockey fraternity looks towards Nawaz Sharif to act as a messiah and save Pakistan hockey. There is a possibility that the prime minister, who as PHF’s patron-in-chief has the final say in national hockey matters, might use his authority to help bring in a competent set-up to run Pakistan hockey. Personally, I won’t bet on that. Based on past experience I have rather pessimistic views on the whole thing. A change is in the offing for Pakistan hockey following the Antwerp debacle but I don’t expect it to make much of a difference. In the worst case scenario, there is this possibility that after axing a few key officials the current set-up running the PHF will survive. In the best case scenario, the prime minister will ask the current set-up to quit and (following elections) new officials will take over the federation. But even if it happens, there is a big likelihood that the new set-up will be chosen on the basis of its association with the current regime headed by the Sharifs. Little heed will be paid to the fact that what Pakistan hockey needs are competent officials with no vested interest. Do you think people who will make their way into the hockey federation on the basis of their connections in the ruling party will have those qualities?