After almost a three-year absence from international hockey, Pakistan women’s team figured in two high-profile events over the last one year: Asian Hockey Federation Cup in Bangkok, Thailand, and recently, Asian Challenge in Bandar Seri Bagwan, Brunei.
They did really well at both the tournaments. At the AHF Cup, Pakistani women finished fourth among nine teams, their best-ever finish in a competition of such magnitude.
In October this year, Pakistan were deprived of a possible win at the three-team Asian Challenge due to a bizarre scheduling of the final. The final was their third successive match in as many days. It was a sheer violation of the FIH regulation that stipulates a mandatory gap of one day for a team that has played international matches on two consecutive days.
One player distinguished herself in both these tournaments: Mayira Sabir was Pakistan’s top scorer at the AHF Cup. In the match against Cambodia, she scored five goals — the highest individual tally in an international match for a Pakistani woman player. At the Asian Challenge 2017, Mayira was declared ‘The Player of Tournament’.
She comes from Bahawalpur, which has produced hockey legends like Mutiullah, Samiullah and Kalimullah. But no one in her family had played any sport seriously.
“I developed interest in hockey at my school, Government Girls Higher Secondary School. We were lucky to have Mirza Mansoor Baig as the hockey coach there. He also ran the Young Fighters Girls Club, the only women hockey club in Bahawalpur at the time. I began regularly practising there. I play in the forward line, mostly as an inside right though sometimes I have also played as the centre forward. My first major tournament was the Inter Board Girls Tournament in Islamabad. I was declared the player of tournament.”
That appearance led to a meteoric rise. “The Railways hockey coach spotted me and I played the national under 18 for the department. I was named in the probables for the Pakistan under-18 side. But the camp was called off after only a few days due to the cancellation of the tour. Then, I was called for the national under-21 camp. I got selected and made my first international tour, the 2012 Junior Asia Cup in Thailand.”
The coveted selection for the national senior team arrived soon. “It was a dream come true when I wore the blazer for the first time in 2013, for the tour of Singapore.”
Since then she has been a regular in Pakistan national team though there have been very few international assignments. “What to talk of international competition, there was very little domestic activity for the girls. It is only over the last two years that the women hockey has been reinvigorated. There have been quite a few tournaments at home and girls have played two high-profile international events.”
Mayira has been on the rolls of WAPDA for a long time and greatly appreciates the department’s contribution to her hockey career. “I joined WAPDA quite early. No organisation in Pakistan looks after the sportspersons better. Here, I must mention the WAPDA hockey coach Dilawar Hussain, who really polished my game. To date, I have represented WAPDA in five nationals, and we were the winners each time.”
Pakistan’s successes in the last two events have brought a ray of hope. “When we went to Thailand for the AHF Cup, it was the women team’s first international participation after a long hiatus. The players, team management and the PHF officials were all quite apprehensive. However, Pakistan performed beyond expectations, reaching semi-final of a high-profile event. At the Asian Challenge, in October this year, we might have won the final against Hong Kong, who were ranked almost 20 places above Pakistan, but for the unjust scheduling.”
Mayira was a bit self-effacing about her own performance at the two events. “Hockey is a team sport and it is the results that matter. It gives me a sense of satisfaction that I was able to make good contribution to the team’s fine show. Yes, I was Pakistan’s top scorer in Thailand and Player of the Tournament at Brunei; icing on the cake.
“At the AHF Cup, I was mostly played as the centre forward and hence notched some goals. In Brunei, at the Asian Challenge, I was mainly utilised at the right in and the left in positions.”
Pakistan’s head coach Saeed Khan says Mayira’s dribbling and passing skills make her a good schemer. He was proven right. “I was declared ‘The Player of the Tournament’ despite not scoring a single goal in the tournament.”
Her successes have inspired a lot around her. “Quite a few female cousins have picked up hockey sticks. My younger brother now plays the game regularly. In fact, it is not only the family. My Young Fighters Girls Club was the only women hockey centre in Bahawalpur. In recent times, two other women clubs have emerged, and the number of girls in all the three is increasing.”
All this time, she hasn’t ignored her education. Her passion is reflected here as well. “I have recently completed my bachelors and intend to do Master’s in Sports Sciences.”
Her future hockey ambitions also revolve around team achievements. “It is my desire to see Pakistan competing in the top echelons of continental hockey. We came close to qualifying for the Asia Cup; were just one match away. Had we made it to the final at the AHF Cup, Pakistan would have been competing in the Asia Cup. It will also be great to be a part of the big multi-sport extravaganza, the Asian Games. I believe the federation is on the right track. There are more domestic competitions and foreign tours. Here, I suggest that the training camps before the international tournaments should be a bit longer. This is essential to develop sound understanding among the players.”
Role models are essential for any sport to lure the young. Women hockey in Pakistan has now one in Mayira.