When the Pakistan hockey team left for Antwerp to participate in the Hockey World League, some believed that the Green-shirts might qualify for the Rio Olympics next year by finishing in the top three; I didn’t. Not once did I have high hopes from the hockey team which seems to be going down with every passing day. Not only do they still rely more on back passes than on regular passes towards the goal, they have sort of forgotten how to score a field goal; in fact they wait for a penalty corner for a shy at the post which was something that wasn’t associated with great players of yesteryears. The current bunch of players who don’t want to learn - coach from literally another millennium (Shahnaz Sheikh) doesn’t help either.
On the other hand, we have the national cricket team that won the Test series against Sri Lanka but not even their staunchest supporters believed that the men in white may strike at the right moment. Chasing 377 to win in the final Test was always going to be tricky but Younis Khan and Co made it happen with their willow and belief. The national cricket team had all the things in their favour -- a coach (Waqar Younis) who played the game as late as 2003, a captain (Misbah-ul-Haq) who has age, mental strength and luck on his side, a senior batsman (Younis Khan) with an exceptional record and a leggie (Yasir Shah) in the form of his life. But had the coach got his way here, the result wouldn’t have been much different from the hockey team.
How, you may ask? Who were the two players coach Waqar Younis publicly refused to field in the playing XI during the World Cup earlier this year -- Sarfraz Ahmed and Yasir Shah. Had Shan Masood not scored his debut hundred on the penultimate day of the final Test, Sarfraz the batsman would have ended the series averages at 68 runs per innings with 204 runs in four innings including a match-winning 96 in the first Test. Sarfraz the wicketkeeper’s 14 dismissal (9 catches, 5 stumpings) put him there at par with his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Chandimal (11 catches, 3 stumpings) and although he wasn’t flawless behind the stumps, he was better than any Akmal, any day.
Man of the Series Yasir Shah emerged as Sri Lanka’s tormentor-in-chief as he finished the series with 24 wickets including three 5-wicket hauls. Had the Pathan had his way, he would have shown some gesture from the field to the very coach who didn’t want him in the side in the first place. OK, it was one day cricket but was Pakistan had nothing to lose in the mega event and who knows, Yasir’s magic might have done the trick for Misbah just as it did in the Tests.
Let’s get back to the hockey team and discuss why it is going through the worst phase. For a team that has won the World Cup on most occasions, not qualifying for the mega event last year should have been an eye-opener. But not for the officials who have been around since forever because for them, Pakistan hockey team’s performance comes second -- their perks, their tours and their status as PHF officials comes first. Not only should they be banned for life for being at the helm when Pakistan failed to qualify for the Olympics, but their decisions as officials should be investigated as well. True, hockey is not one of the most popular sports in the country but we must not forget that the first hockey team to represent Pakistan was given a send-off by none other than Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1948. Just imagine how his soul must be feeling right now considering that this time Pakistan’s hockey team will not feature in the Olympics at all!
As for cricket -- Pakistan’s most popular sport -- the team’s recent success against Sri Lanka saw them reach the third position in the Test Ranking. Pakistan will have to beat Sri Lanka 4-1 in the ongoing ODI series to qualify for the prestigious Champions’ Trophy, the tournament featuring the top 8 teams in the world. The Hockey team disappointed many by dropping out of their mega event, one hopes the cricketers will not let down their fans and followers.