Pakistan hockey on its way back


Historically amongst the most decorated in world hockey and comfortably the most successful team we can boast in the realm of sports, the national hockey team has been playing bride’s maid to their gaudy cricketing peers for a while. After plummeting to an all-time low in New Delhi last year, evidently the only way forward was upwards. But the manner in which the team riposted and triumphed at the Guangzhou Asian Games was awe-inspiring.
The renaissance following the Asian gold medal was further bolstered by the valiant show in Azlan Shah Cup last month. Competing with the omnipotent Aussies in the final was unanimously perceived to be an implausible task, but the national side stretched their universally extolled opponents to their limits. The performance in Malaysia has heralded the rejuvenation of our hockey side as a global power.
Silver medalist amidst a decent ensemble of teams, the Azlan Shah Cup promises to be the runway for the national side to take off. Trouncing South Korea, New Zealand and old foe India masterfully, even the losses against the two illustrious sides weren’t devoid of positives. Dodging a plethora of scornful media bullets in the last few years, the national side has turned the corner implicitly.
The team is about to embark upon a European tour which desirably should act as a vital prelude to the year ending Champions Trophy and more crucially the London Olympics next summer. An apt mélange of youth and experience, the 18-man squad announced for the expedition epitomizes the cream of our hockey reservoir. This pool of internationally competent players would in all likeliness form the arsenal with which we plan our onslaught on the available silverware in the next 15 months or so.
A four-nation tournament in Dublin is scheduled to kick off the European adventure. The Green Shirts would be up against China, France and hosts Ireland in the six-day event which begins on June 20.
Following the curtain-raiser in Dublin will be a much sterner affair. Facing three of the world’s top four teams according to the FIH rankings, the RoboBank Trophy in Amsterdam would feature powerhouses Germany, Holland and England. The tournament will be staged from June 28 to July 2.
The national team is also scheduled to play three test matches versus Holland, Belgium and New Zealand. Two training camps sandwich the tournaments and the test matches. All in all, the excursion vows to be a rigorous test for the team and the performances will be an appropriate litmus test to gauge the standing of the squad. The training camps should be devoted to perk up the various facets of the players’ repertoire as well as to ameliorate the collective play and synchronization of the entire squad on a common wavelength.
Under the leadership of well-backed Mohammad Imran, this summer promises to be a major step towards the right direction. Michel Van Den Heuvel seems to have sorted out his security concerns, and has the ideal setting to synthesize the best possible combination and iron out any creases ahead of a potentially momentous year that lies ahead. The players have the perfect opportunity to extinguish the phantoms of malfunction in global tournaments and should target the podium in London next year.
The revival of hockey bodes well for the current crop of sports followers for whom the zenith of our successful past is akin to a leaf out of mythology. Media must play its part in spreading optimism about our national sport. Habitually the media is the first to haul over the coals whenever our hockey outfit gets unstuck. Use of the past glories to castigate the present has meant that our hockey has become the victim of its own successes.
Our hockey is in a transitional phase, and hence the nation must not expect instantaneous miracles. As soon as the graph shows an upward trend the nation clamors for an exponential curve. Falling from the apogee is hard to digest, but this is exactly what differentiates supporters from glory-hunters. Yes, hockey used to be our unchallenged dominion but for the decades of relentless splendour, we owe it to our national sport to be patient and supportive.