The year that was

December 29, 2013

The year that was

In many ways Mohammad Hafeez epitomised Pakistan sports in 2013. His multiple failures against Dale Steyn mirrored the tough times faced by cricket, hockey, squash and various other sports during the year. But Pakistan’s Twenty20 captain fought back in the twilight days of the year and smashed three centuries in the fivematch ODI series against Sri Lanka in the United Arab Emirates to redeem himself. That prolific run underlined the fact that in spite of a technique that seems fragile when he is facing quality bowlers in testing conditions, Hafeez has fire in his belly.

So does Pakistan sports.

In spite of a plethora of obstacles, Pakistan sports almost always bounces back after every failure. That is why whether its cricket, hockey or squash, it is always difficult to write Pakistan off.

But for how long?

In 2013 we experienced the fact that many of our sporting engines are almost running on empty. Due to a variety of reasons that include power struggles, infighting among sports officials, lack of planning and a dearth of funds, Pakistan sports has gotten trapped in a downward spiral and unless carefully planned steps are taken, things will only get worse for it in the coming years.

Let’s take the case of Pakistan cricket. There were more hits than misses for the national cricket team that managed to end the year on a high by beating Sri Lanka in a one-day series in the UAE. But rewind to earlier parts of the year and you will see embarrassing results like shocking losses against Zimbabwe and a terrible run in the ICC Champions Trophy in England.

There were success stories like Misbah-ul-Haq and his deputy Hafeez. Misbah finished the year as one of the top run-getters in One-day Internationals. Hafeez ended it in a blaze of glory. But neither of the two could say that 2013 was an entirely happy year for them or the national team.

It wasn’t really a memorable year for Pakistan but thanks to a few cheerful memories here and there it wasn’t a completely forgettable one either. It was the year when Pakistan fielded rookies like Bilawal Bhatti, Anwar Ali, Sharjeel Khan and Shan Masood. There were times when the youngsters delivered but there were also times when they didn’t. But one thing was for sure: Pakistan’s cup of talent isn’t empty yet.

Unfortunately, one cannot repeat that statement when it comes to hockey at least not with the same degree of certainty. Pakistan’s ninth-place finish at the Junior World Cup in New Delhi underlined the fact that the country’s player pool has shrunk to the extent that it has almost stopped producing world class players. In spite of tall claims made by the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), it is evident that the country lags far behind top teams like Australia, Germany, Holland and fellow Asian side Korea even at the international junior level. Even France, once regarded among the minnows in the hockey world, have overtaken Pakistan. The national junior team’s disastrous showing in India wasn’t the only bad news for Pakistan in the field of hockey. Four-time former champions Pakistan even failed to qualify for World Cup 2014. The national team’s failure to make the cut for the quadrennial extravaganza capped what was a rotten year for Pakistan hockey. Among the few silver linings for Pakistan hockey was their team’s title-winning triumph in the Asian Champions Trophy in Japan and a bronze medal in the FIH Champions Trophy in Australia.

Last November’s controversial PHF elections that saw former Olympians Akhtar Rasool and Rana Mujahid taking control of the federation will make sure that infighting between PHF and a growing group of disgruntled ex- Olympians will continue unabated. It is feared that the tussle will push Pakistan hockey towards more disappointing results.

Infighting within leading sports officials intensified in 2013, leaving the government of Pakistan at loggerheads with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and bringing the country closer to a suspension from the world sports community. Because of the tussle, Pakistan’s hockey team is unlikely to feature in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (Scotland) and Asian Games in Incheon (South Korea) in 2014. Power struggles between various sets of sports officials all but made sure in 2013 that the door for the two Games would be closed for Pakistan’s hockey team.

Squash, once the pride of the nation, showed little signs of progress as Pakistani players continued to punch below their weight at the international level. Pakistan did win a few individual and team titles during the year but the achievements were pretty minor ones considering the fact that the country was once the undisputed champion in the world of squash.

In football, too, Pakistan failed to make much progress while in snooker they were unable to retain the world title which was won in 2012 by Mohammad Asif.