Shah­baz on the at­tack as he claims play­ers lack fit­ness and con­fi­dence

The Hockey Paper - - FEATURE - By San­deep Singh

HAS for­mer Pak­istan cap­tain Shah­baz Ah­mad touched a raw nerve by say­ing that con­tem­po­rary play­ers lack the pas­sion for suc­cess that took the green shirts to glory?

Oc­cu­py­ing the im­por­tant po­si­tion as Sec­re­tary of the Pak­istan Hockey Fed­er­a­tion (PHF), Shah­baz has ruf­fled many a feath­ers within the hockey fra­ter­nity through his com­ments that ques­tioned the at­ti­tude of cur­rent play­ers com­pared to those who donned the fa­mous- green shirts in the glory days of a by­gone era.

“There was a time when the hockey world used to cher­ish our skills with the stick and grip over the ball,” says Shah­baz, un­der whose cap­taincy Pak­istan won the 1994 World Cup in Sydney.

That ti­tle in Sydney re­mains the last podium fin­ish for Pak­istan in a global event.

The best per­for­mance there­after was mak­ing the semi-fi­nals of the Olympics in 2000 – also in Sydney – but the sit­u­a­tion has got so bad of late that Pak­istan did not fea­ture in the line-up for the 2014 World Cup or the 2016 Olympic Games.

It was in the wake of the dis­as­trous re­sults of the past few years that the na­tional fed­er­a­tion was over­hauled and Shah­baz was given the sec­re­tary’s post.

“I played hockey for two decades. The wrist work of the green shirts was en­vied and the goal was to take the coun­try to the top of the podium,” says Shah­baz.

The PHF sec­re­tary says he sees glimpses of the same qual­i­ties in the cur­rent play­ers, but not the same lev­els of con­fi­dence and com­mit­ment.

“I see the same skills and tal­ent to­day in our play­ers, but they lack fit­ness, con­fi­dence and com­mit­ment,” says Shah­baz, fur­ther em­pha­sis­ing that nowa­days the play­ers give pri­or­ity to sub-stan­dard leagues as op­posed to the na­tional squad’s prepa­ra­tions and even their in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments.

Shah­baz ex­presses his dis­ap­point­ment that Pak­istan’s of­fi­cials al­lowed the do­mes­tic stan­dards to fall even as the other na­tions im­proved by leaps and bounds. He feels this caused Pak­istan hockey’s de­cline and a huge gap with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

“There’s a lot of work to do and it has to start at the grass­roots,” says Shah­baz. “We’re in­vest­ing in our Un­der 18 and Un­der 16 teams. But I can­not claim the green shirts will be jump­ing to the top of the charts any­time soon.”

Pak­istan suf­fered a 4-0 de­feat at the hands of Aus­tralia in a Test se­ries

Down Un­der, with all the matches be­ing played in Dar­win.

Com­ing in the wake of Pak­istan’s morale-boost­ing 2-1 se­ries tri­umph in New Zealand with two games drawn, the se­ries against Aus­tralia was ex­pected to be a tougher test for Pak­istan’s team with sev­eral young play­ers on their maiden tour with the se­nior squad.

Out­played 6-1 in the first Test, Pak­istan be­came more com­pet­i­tive as the se­ries went on. but Aus­tralia con­tin­ued the win­ning spree by pre­vail- ing 3-0 and 2-0 in the next two Test matches.

Pak­istan scored three times in the fourth and fi­nal Test match, but the Aus­tralians fired five in re­sponse to se­cure vic­tory by two goals and com­plete an all-win se­ries.

How­ever, Aus­tralia coach was im­pressed by Pak­istan’s fourth-Test show.

“They had a lot of run in their legs, which chal­lenged us in deep de­fence. They brought the game alive,” he said.

Two field goals from Abu Mah­mood were the high- light for Pak­istan in the fi­nal Test, while one strike came from Muham­mad Umar Bhutta.

In­dian striker S.V. Su­nil and Ja­pan’s Hazuki Na­gai have been ad­judged the con­ti­nent’s most out­stand­ing play­ers of 2016 by the Asian Hockey Fed­er­a­tion, who an­nounced their awards dur­ing their Congress in Oman’s cap­i­tal of Muscat.

The AHF Player Awards recog­nise the play­ers in two cat­e­gories for men and women.

Su­nil was re­warded as the most out­stand­ing male player from an Asian coun­tries, while Na­gai got the women’s award.

The most promis­ing male player of Asia was also an In­dian, young penalty flicker Har­man­preet Singh.

Har­man­preet’s fine show in last year’s Sul­tan Azlan Shah Cup se­cured him se­lec­tion for the 2016 Cham­pi­ons’ Tro­phy in Lon­don, where In­dia ad­vanced to the fi­nal for the first time in the his­tory of the tour­na­ment.

An­other fine show in the Cham­pi­ons’ Tro­phy put Har­man­preet on the flight to Rio de Janeiro, where the young In­dian player made his Olympic de­but.

Ha­nis Na­diah Onn be­came the first player from Malaysia to re­ceive an AHF award when she was picked as the most promis­ing fe­male player.

De­spite not be­ing from a team that played in the Olympic Games, Ha­nis tri­umphed over other young stars of Asia’s top teams.

She played a key role when World No 21 Malaysia won 2-0 over 10thranked Ja­pan in the 2016 Asian Women’s Cham­pi­ons’ Tro­phy in Sin­ga­pore.

Chal­leng­ing: Pak­istan’s Shah­baz Ah­mad

Award win­ner: SV Su­nil, of In­dia, is Asia’s best player

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