This was Lahore-based Dar Hockey Academy’s fourth tour to Europe. After three visits in successive years, beginning from 2010, the 2015 trip came after a gap of two years. It was a new batch of the colts and all were making their first overseas journey.
Then it was a very hectic schedule as the Dar HA played nine matches in as many days in Holland.
The side had a setback even before leaving Pakistan. The academy’s head coach, World Cup winner Danish Kaleem, was assigned the coaching role with Pakistan’s national team just a few days before the departure for Amsterdam. Dar HA left without Danish who had been training them for the last three years.
The opposition faced by the Dar HA in Holland included members of senior teams of Dutch clubs. Holland has easily the best domestic structure in the world. It has around 350,000 registered players and 400 turfs; all the clubs have a number of teams, starting from under-8 and going up to the veterans.
Hence, it was a real test for the novices. Dar Hockey Academy, comprising highly promising youngsters scouted from different parts of the country, passed the test impressively.
Of the nine matches played across different parts of South Holland, the Dar HA won five, lost two and drew two.
The two defeats came against senior sides. Even in those encounters, the boys were never outplayed and only went down after putting up a good fight.
In the other two ties against senior rivals, the academy won one and drew the other.
They remained unbeaten against the age group sides -- dominating most of the matches.
The colts were on a learning tour. It was imperative to get good competition. Playing against the Dutch clubs’ vastly mature and experienced sides, which only a few weeks back had been participating in the toughest hockey league of the world, provided the boys with a wealth of experience.
It is also pertinent to mention that Holland is world’s tallest nation. It provided a challenge to the lads: to find way across defenders with big reach.
The Dutch are aware about this advantage and indulge in physical play. All this was part of the learning.
The coaches had done a good job. The players were proficient in basic skills and also well-versed with the modern trends of the game. Also on display were classic skills of deft stick work, body dodges and oriental dribbling which captivated the spectators.
All the squad members were given good exposure. The two goal keepers were rotated after every match. That they played one match a day speaks of players’ stamina and fitness.
As before, it was the MOP club in the Southern Dutch town of Vught, which hosted the colts’ team from Pakistan.
Like the previous years, Rob Lathouwers, the world-famed former international umpire, supervised the arrangements.
Two other prominent MOP club members, Martijn Gosens and Jan Chris Pinxteren, went out of the way to make the trip comfortable and enjoyable.
Kids are kids; they also need recreation. The boys had a boat ride in Den Bosch, visited the beach at The Hague and had a wonderful tour of Efteling, the Disneyland of Holland, which is frequented by visitors from all over the Western Europe.
Keeping up the tradition, the Dar Hockey Academy officials presented all their hosts with a number of mementoes.
After each match, the best player of the opposing team was given an international standard Pakistani hockey stick of famous brands.
In 2012, the academy officials arranged a tour of Pakistan for a team titled "Flying Dutch Veterans", comprising former hockey stalwarts of Holland, including Maarten Grimbergen and Gijs Weterings.
Preparations are afoot for another trip later this year.
The 2015 tour of the Dar HA was well covered by the Dutch media. There were reports in the newspapers. One TV channel even interviewed a couple of academy players. Pakistani expats turned up in good numbers for quite a few games.
Through this tour, 16 rough diamonds have been cut and polished.
Pakistan hockey’s pathetic state was often mentioned during talks. In this darkest period of Pakistan hockey, Dar Academy provides a ray of sunshine.