Winging their way to success

August 1, 2021

This is an unusual story of an extraordinary Pakistani family of hockey players who all played as wingers

Winging their way to success

Hockey, our national game, has sadly been on the decline for many years now. In its heyday it produced some of its most brilliant exponents, renowned for their expertise and skills and widely acclaimed as the best in their respective domains.Since the inception of Pakistan, Bahawalpur was been a traditional focal centre for sporting events, with active initial patronage from its Nawab, Sadiq Mohammad Khan Abbasi. Perhaps the most famous sporting figure to emerge from Bahawalpur is the legendary hockey player Samiullah, but he is not the only member of his family to excel in this game.

For Samiullah hockey was a family sport. Originally of Afghan descent the family elders played for the local Afghan Club. His father, Inayatullah had three brothers, Amanullah, Motiullah and Faizullah. Three of the four siblings played active hockey with two reaching national recognition. When Pakistan was preparing for the Helsinki Olympics of 1952, Inayatullah, who played as a centre forward, was called to the national training camp as one of the probables for selection. Unfortunately, a knee injury ended his hopes of making the national team, but four years later his younger brother, the 18 year old Motiullah, was invited to a similar training camp to choose Pakistan’s team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.

Motiullah succeeded in joining the national squad as an outside left, establishing a trend of wingers from the family who would don the national colours.

Pakistan fielded a formidable forward line-up for Melbourne with Motiullah on the left flank, Naseer Bunda as inside left, centre forward Habibur Rehman, inside right Hamidi and Noor Alam on the right wing. After beating Belgium 2-0 in their opening match Pakistan overran New Zealand 5-1, including a goal from Motiullah, and then drew a goalless game against Germany. A 3-2 semifinal win over Britain again had Motiullah among the scorers, and though they lost to India by a disputed goal in the final, Pakistan had done well. Motiullah’s silver medal was the first of many that his family would win in international competitions.

Pakistan’s victory in the Asian Games hockey competition at Tokyo in 1958 made Motiullah a member of the first Pakistan team to win a gold medal in an international hockey tournament.

Winging their way to success

The zenith of his career, however, came at the Rome Olympics in 1960, when Pakistan dethroned India as champions after thirty two years of the latter’s ascendancy. Motiullah’s combination with left-in Naseer Bunda allowed Pakistan to attack with vigor from both flanks. Another gold medal followed in the 1962 Asian Games in Djakarta, but for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, Bunda was replaced by Asad Malik, a formidable inside forward in his own right, but Pakistan missed the understanding that Bunda had with Motiullah, reducing the effectiveness of the left side of the forward line. Pakistan were defeated by India in the final and had to be content with a silver medal. Motiullah was still only twenty six years old but his career with the national team was soon over as Pakistani set about preparing the nucleus for a new squad for the next Olympics.

After their success in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Pakistan had also fielded a strong team for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The left winger in the team was the virtuoso Shahnaz Shaikh, who could weave circles around any defence. After defeating arch rivals India in the semifinals Pakistan lost an ill-tempered match to Germany in the final. As a mark of displeasure at some of the umpiring decisions the team behaved in a most unprofessional manner during the medal ceremony. They turned their backs when the German national anthem was played, refused to wear their medals round their necks and Shahnaz Shaikh even dangled his medal on his footwear. Unsurprisingly, the Pakistan playing eleven was penalised with a two year ban.

With the World Cup due in Amstelveen, Holland, in a year’s time, the ban opened the door for many new players to make it into the national side. One of the most exciting new entrants was Samiullah, the 21 year old nephew of Motiullah. Inspired by his uncle, Sami had taken interest in hockey from an early age and had already played for a West Pakistan Youth team that toured Sri Lanka and had also attended previous national training camps. Originally a left-in, he was now moved to the outside left position. Displaying tremendous speed with superb ball control, his dazzling runs down the flank made an immediate impact in the World Cup, including a goal in the very first match against Malaysia. A totally new Pakistani side performed creditably to secure fourth position and Samiullah emerged as a new star.

The banned players returned in time for the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran. However, such was Samiullah’s brilliance that Shahnaz, whose shoes Sami had filled in his absence, was now asked to shift over to the left-in position, leaving Samiullah as the first choice winger. This was indeed a great honour as Shahnaz was already acknowledged as one of the greatest players of his time. Pakistan’s exceptional front line scored 34 goals without reply in their initial group matches before being held to a 1-1 draw by India.

The two leading teams from the pool matches, Pakistan and India faced each other in the final, which Pakistan won decisively by 2-0 to be crowned Asian champions. On the basis of individual performances in the Games an Asian Eleven was selected to play against an European Eleven, followed by matches in India and Pakistan. Samiullah was one of seven Pakistanis in the Asian team.

Winging their way to success

These Asian Games also marked another notable achievement for this famous hockey family from Bahawalpur. Samiullah’s elder brother Hidayatullah was also in the gold medal winning Pakistan team, playing as an outside right. It was also the first occasion when both wingers in the national side were real brothers, a feat which would be repeated later in this family of international hockey stars. Knee problems limited Hidayatullah’s career and this was the only major tournament in which he represented Pakistan. He became the second sibling and the third member of his family, to play as a winger for his country and win an Asian Games gold medal.

Samiullah continued his good form in the 1975 World Cup that was held in Kuala Lumpur. In a tournament badly affected by torrential downpours, Samiullah’s class stood out. His daring runs on the flanks and deft passing and crosses, set up innumerable scoring opportunities for his team.

After topping their group Pakistan met Germany in the semifinals. The team was determined to take revenge for the Munich defeat and Sami set the tempo with a 7th minute goal.

Pakistan went on a scoring spree and routed the German side 5-1, to qualify for a final against India. Pakistan were favorites to win but injuries to Rasheed Junior, Shahnaz Shaikh and Zahid Shaikh weakened their forward line. The final straw was a heavy fall Sami sustained after a rough tackle by the Indian right-half, that resulted in a fractured collar bone and Pakistan, consequently, lost 2-1. However, it was during this World Cup that Samiullah earned the sobriquet of ‘the flying horse ‘for his peerless performance.

Samiullah continued to perform outstandingly for Pakistan winning a bronze medal in the 1976 Montreal Olympics and gold medals in the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1978 World Cup in Buenos Aires. The 1978 Pakistan forward line, with Sami as a key component, was in such scintillating form, that the Argentinian football team coach Cesar Menotti, visited the Pakistan hockey team’s training sessions to pick up tips on how to break down tight defences, which the Argentina team subsequently deployed in winning the football World Cup later that year.

The Esanda World Tournament in Perth, Australia, in 1979, announced the arrival of yet another family member and sibling into the Pakistan side. Sami’s younger brother Kaleemullah was chosen to play on the right flank as a replacement for the famous Islahuddin. Kaleem had already played with distinction for the winning Pakistan Junior team in the Hockey Junior World Cup in Paris in 1977 and he now grabbed this new opportunity of representing the senior side with both hands, playing a key role, along with his brother Samiullah, in Pakistan’s victory in the event. Kaleemullah scored two goals in the final and was also declared as the ‘Man of the Tournament.’

The two brothers again dominated both the wings in the 1980 Champions Trophy, combining beautifully to score nine goals between them as Pakistan emerged as worthy winners of the tournament. More success was to follow. In the 1982 World Cup in Mumbai the siblings turned in an amazing performance. Pakistan won all its five group matches with Kaleemullah scoring goals in each match and Samiullah also finding the net in three of the five games.

Kaleemullah continued his remarkable run with penalty stroke conversions in both the semifinals and the final. Pakistan won the World Cup, winning all seven matches they played and Kaleemullah scored in every single one of them. He netted a total of eight goals with another four coming from Samiullah’s stick. Never have two brothers created such a profound impact in an international hockey tournament. Sami was incidentally also the vice-captain of team.

The 1982 Asian Games were held in New Delhi. Samiullah was now captaining the team which qualified to meet India in the final. A full house of 70,000 spectators had turned up to watch the game, including the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Bollywood celebrities like Amitabh Bachan.

India opened the scoring by converting a penalty stroke, but then Pakistan took over, completely pulverizing the Indian defence. Kaleemullah equalized with a brilliant solo run that left the Indian goalkeeper Negi stranded at the top of the ‘D’. A neat pass from Kaleemullah was directed into the net by Hanif Khan and Hasan Sardar scored off a cross from Samiullah. With the Pakistan goal score mounting, a dejected Indira Gandhi left the stadium and Pakistan ran out winners by a margin of 7-1. Kaleemullah fittingly scored the final goal from a penalty stroke.

Samiullah announced his retirement after the Asian Games triumph, but Kaleemullah’s finest hour was still to come. The 1984 Olympics were being held in Los Angeles and Pakistan were tied for second place in their group and just made it to the semifinals on better goal average. After a close 1-0 semifinal win against Australia they met Germany in the finals. A close match was tied 1-1 after 70 minutes. Extra time was played and in the 82nd minute Kaleemullah scored the winning goal off a rebound from a penalty corner. Kaleemullah had emulated his uncle Motiullah with an Olympic gold medal.

This is an unusual story of an extraordinary Pakistani family of hockey players who all played as wingers. All four won Asian Games gold medals, two bagged Olympic gold medals and in many major tournaments both flanks were manned by real brothers who penetrated opposing defences at will with their speed and immaculate ball control. Hockey is unlikely to see such a phenomenon again.

– Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books.

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Winging their way to success