Our young players need to be acquainted with the basics of the game once again
Over 400 years ago Shakespeare lamented a world in which inherent merit and worth were often not accepted or given their due. He said, “And right perfection wrongfully disgraced, and simple truth miscalled simplicity.” Today, we sometimes make the same mistake of rejecting that which has been made more easily understandable, and we ought always to encourage the search for perfection.
Field hockey is a complex game. And it has become further complex with passing time and change in rules to make it even faster. The only way to come to grips with this complexity is to break down the game into component parts and to tackle them one by one. In a series of articles, that will be produced in consultation with some of the renowned international coaches, I shall try to cover some of its modern techniques and tactics of the game, that will subsequently help the young players to elevate their tapping, receiving, passing, dribbling, and penetrating and shooting inside the circle.
We will also discuss the finer technical points of each attacking skill, different defensive techniques in anticipating the opponent’s move and intercepting the passes, making strong tackles and creating eliminations to regain possession and set up counter attacks. We shall also see how to apply the press, using man-to-man marking and zoning up. We shall also cover the vital aspects of goalkeeping and creating perfections in penalty corners.
This all has come to my mind after the culmination of the eleventh edition of Asian Champions Trophy 2023, held in India in Radhakrishna hockey stadium in Chennai.
The young Pakistani team comprising Captain Umar Bhutta and players like Hannan Shahid, Abdullah Ishtiaq, Roman Khan and full back Muhammad Abdullah showed signs of occasional brilliance, but couldn’t produce sustained winning performance due to lack of experience and international exposure.
Besides experience and exposure, a vital difference between India, Malaysia and Japan and the no 5 team Pakistan was its coaching and support staff. Indian coach Craig Fulton, Malaysian coach Arul Anthoni and Japanese coach Akira Takahashi were constantly in touch with their support staff, who were providing them vital information about the tactics and physical condition of their players as well as the opposition through video and notational analysis, which was helping the coach in making timely substitutions and change in the pattern and the pace of game, which proved decisive in the outcome of closely-contested matches.
Pakistan enjoys a rich history of hockey and no write up on the sport can be complete without briefly reviewing its brilliant past. Pakistan became a member of FIH in 1948 and was the founding member of Asian Hockey Federation (ASHF) which was formed in 1958. Pakistan is proud winner of four men’s hockey world cups — 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994. It has three Olympic Golds to its credit — Rome 1960, Mexico 1968 & Los Angeles 1984. The team has been to number one position in Asian Games eight times — 1958, 1962, 1970, 1974, ‘78, ‘82, ‘90 and in 2010.
The golden era of Pakistan hockey spanned from 1970 to 1984. In the 1986 London World Cup, FIH completely shifted field hockey to Astro Turf. From there onwards hockey was no more the game of stick work and body dodges but the entire approach towards the game shifted to fitness and different techniques which we shall discuss in our later articles.
In 1994 Pakistan won the Champions trophy at home after a gap of 14 years and later defeated Netherlands on penalty shootout in Sydney to lift its last World Cup. In the 1998 World Cup, Pakistan finished 5th and the same was the result in the 2002 World Cup in Malaysia. By this time towering personalities in PHF like Gen Muhammad Musa, Air Marshal Noor Khan, Nawab Sadiq Hussain Qureshi, Air Marshal Azim Daudpota, Brig Attif, Brig A H Hamidi and Colonel Mudasir Asghar had exited from the national hockey management scene and were replaced by Olympian Akhtar Rasool, Qasim Zia, Arif Ali Khan Abassi and Tariq Kirmani as Presidents and Khalid Mehmood, Asif Bajwa, Mujahid Rana and Shahbaz senior as secretaries of PHF.
Brig (Retd) Khalid Sajjad Khokhar was appointed as President PHF in 2016 and is the current President of the federation flanked by Syed Haider Husain as secretary.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Pakistan finished 8th on the table but the worst followed when the Greenshirts finished 12th and last in the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi. Pakistan hockey was at its worst and players like Sohail Abbas, Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi and Saqlain were approaching the end of their peaks. In 2012 Pakistan won the Asian Hockey Championship and took the bronze medal in Asian Hockey Championship trophy.
Pakistan hockey badly needed fresh legs, competent coaches and a wider pool of young players, but nothing positive was in the offering. From 2014 started the worst period of Pakistan hockey when we failed to qualify for the world cup for the first time. No enquiry was held at the government level to probe into the state of hockey which is still our national sport.
Hockey fans in Pakistan are totally dejected. There was hardly any coverage of national sport during the last ten years on national TV. PHF miserably failed to develop hockey as a brand, and the youth lost its interest in the sport which was once our pride and flag carrier in the Olympics.
Brig Arif Sadeeqi (Retd), ex-DG Pakistan Sports Board rightly said that great institutions produce great individuals and great individuals produce great institutions. PHF is a true reflection of Brig Arif’s statement, where hockey as an institution has fallen prey to mediocrity in every department.
While I write these lines, a news has struck the headlines stating that Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) has suspended the current PHF officials as directed by the concerned ministry, to ensure full scrutiny of hockey clubs and electoral college at the earliest, under the supervision of PSB, an institution that itself needs transparency and capacity building in many of its professional matters.
No doubt Pakistan hockey needs a complete overhaul, and a scientific approach in its development. It needs its revival in streets, grounds and education institutions. PHF alone will not be able to bail the hockey out of its present state of affairs. We shall try to educate the young hockey lovers about the modern aspects of the game.
In my next three articles or so, I shall be covering the basics of hockey, tackling and interception, goal shooting options, goalkeeping, styles of play, breakaways & counterattacks, set plays of modern hockey, penalty corners, notational analysis in hockey and how to achieve peak player fitness.
I hope that this sincere effort will help our budding players to improve their game because the input would be coming from the best international coaches who are presently engaged in the training of top men and women teams of the world.