Pakistan’s hockey ties with Malaysia have a long history. Pakistan’s national side toured Malaysia for the first time in 1955. Before the inception of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, the two nations mostly came across each other on the international arena at the Asian games/Asia Cup and sometimes at the Olympics and the World Cup.
For last many years, every season a number of Pakistani stars have been featuring in the highly competitive Malaysian Hockey League.
Pakistan have figured regularly at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, except from 1995 to 1998, when the national team was not sent because of then secretary PHF Col Mudassar Asghar’s greed for power.
Mudassar was trying to replace Sultan Azlan Shah as President Asian Hockey Federation. This was really unfortunate since Azlan Shah was always a great admirer and supporter of Pakistan hockey.
Before 1999, Azlan Shah Cup had been a sort of a jinx for Pakistan. They had finished runners-up in four out of five appearances with a third position on the fifth occasion.
Pakistan finally came out of the hoodoo by winning the Cup in 1999. Then they became the first nation to retain the Cup by emerging victorious the following year — a feat later repeated by Australia (twice) and India.
In 1999, Pakistan exhibited superb display and were thoroughly appreciated by the Malaysian crowds. They won all their six matches by a margin of two or more goals, pumping in 29 goals in total, a Pakistan record for the Azlan Shah Cup.
Sohail Abbas’s personal tally of 12 goals in that event has been Pakistan’s highest for this event.
Incidentally, the penalty corner king is also the all-time top scorer at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup with 45 goals.
In 2001, Pakistan were eyeing a hat-trick but performed miserably, unable to reach the medal rostrum for the first time, finishing fourth.
Moreover, they let in 25 goals, the highest Pakistan ever conceded in an international tournament. They finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively.
But in their next five appearances, Pakistan failed to climb the podium: 5th, 6th, 4th, 4th and 5th in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively.
The Green-shirts finally redeemed themselves in 2011 when they finished second. But in their last two appearances, in 2012 and 2013, Pakistan ended at the bottom.
If that wasn’t enough, in 2014, Pakistan pulled out at the eleventh hour, citing lack of funds. That annoyed the Malaysian hosts. Datul Johari, secretary MHC remarked, “Pakistan had confirmed their participation earlier and their 11th hour withdrawal has placed us in a sticky situation. It is too late to invite another team.”
As a result, in 2015, the organisers did not invite Pakistan.
The silver jubilee edition of Sultan Azlan Shah that has begun holds special importance for Pakistan hockey.
The country which once ruled the hockey world has failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time. The 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is their first appearance in a major tournament since the World Hockey League semi-finals in 2015 in which Pakistan’s eighth spot meant the country will not appear at Rio 2016.
A new set-up is in place at the PHF with Shahbaz Ahmed, one of the all-time greats of hockey, at the position of the secretary general. There have been some encouraging results lately. Pakistan finished second at the Junior Asia Cup and won the gold at the South Asian Games. But the real test is this: the 25th Azlan Shah Cup.
‘Azlan Shah Cup is a befitting tribute to a great patron of hockey’
Samiullah Khan, the former captain of Pakistan, played international hockey from 1973-82. He was the greatest left winger of his time. He was known for his marauding runs down the flank. Samiullah’s medal cabinet shows two World Cup gold medals and one silver, an Olympic bronze medal, three Asian Games gold medals and an Asia Cup gold.
“It is a great pleasure to know that this year’s edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will be the Silver Jubilee one. My first appearance in this beautiful country was the 1975 World Cup. It was a wonderfully organised event and the enthusiastic Malaysian fans filled the stadia. I have great personal memories as well. It was that tournament where I got the sobriquet of “Flying Horse”. Later, whenever I visited the country as the manager of Pakistan team, I was humbled by the respect I received.
Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is a befitting tribute to the great lover and patron of hockey. When we talk of the great benefactors of the game, two names standout: Air Marshal Nur Khan and Sultan Azlan Shah. Nur Khan gave us World Cup and the Champions Trophy. For last many years, Malaysia has been the biggest host in the world of international tournaments, for both senior and junior teams. The credit for this goes to the late Sultan.
‘Malaysians are true lovers of the game’
Shahnaz Sheikh, one of the greatest forwards in history, played for Pakistan from 1969-79, winning two World Cup gold medals and one World Cup silver, an Olympics silver and an Olympic bronze.
“I first toured Malaysia, with my department Pakistan International Airlines’ team. Since then, I have visited the country many times with the Pakistan team, either as a player, as manager or as coach.
Malaysians are true lovers of the game. During my playing days, I received great adulation. Once a fan approached me to tell, “My wife is expecting a baby. If it were a boy, I would name him Shahnaz.”
He was indeed blessed with Shahnaz Junior. In fact, after many a year, I attended Shahnaz’s wedding. Due to personal interest and efforts of late Sultan Azlan Shah, Malaysia has become the hub of international hockey. Whenever Pakistan played against any team other than Malaysia, he supported us; he was also a great admirer of my skills.
I have fond memories of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup — was the head coach of Pakistan in two of their three gold medal winning campaigns.