The Pakistan Hockey Federation’s (PHF) olive branch to the seniors won’t make any difference to the team’s fortunes.
After all, what can a bunch of over-aged, unfit players achieve in London when the same group finished eighth in Beijing four years ago. Most of those who will turn up in London were there in Beijing too. Therefore, there’s little to talk about if you want to discuss Pakistan’s chances.
The team’s miserable show in the Azlan Shah Cup has further exposed its weaknesses — players are unfit, some of them past their prime and Pakistan have a weak defence and poor finishing. To compete against Spain, Great Britain, Australia and even South Africa will be very tough.
Other teams started their preparation a long time ago. Pakistan are still trying to shuffle the playing-eleven. Even the return of Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi won’t make a difference. With this in mind, the PHF has set the 2014 World Cup as its ‘next target’, a worrying sign for the nation.
In Malaysia, Pakistan won the first match before going down in the next five. They were fresh for the opener against Argentina before the graph started its downward journey. As the event progressed, fitness came into play too and it became clear that our team couldn’t compete one more than one level. The team management failed to analyse the opponents and was unable to adapt. Sohail Abbas is talented but is now well past his prime. He’s not captaincy material either.
For the Olympics, the federation needs to have credible aims. They can’t finish on the podium so I’ll advise them to utilise the current bunch in the best possible manner. Make them work on their fitness and introduce rolling substitution, not letting a player to be out on the field for a longer period. Don’t exert an unfit player and work on your defence. Shahid Ali Khan, a former goal-keeper, should be teaching the youngsters to learn from their mistakes. If the player’s game doesn’t improve, it’s the coach’s failure as well.
As far as a long-term plan goes, the government’s interference in the PHF needs to end. Permanent jobs need to be offered to the players as incentive. Non-controversial individuals should be part of the management, ones who have contributed to game development and are honest and dedicated to the team’s improvement.
I’d also like to see the number of academies reduced. From 21, it needs to be cut down to five — in major cities. Players from other cities and towns should be provided accommodation and an improved allowance per day. With this, even a six-month training programme will be enough to change the results. Even a 10 to 20-day training programme per month would suffice. If these academies can produce 30 players, we will have a good enough bench-strength that will gradually wear the national colours.
I’m sure that this will lift Pakistan out of the doldrums it finds itself in right now.
The writer is a Pakistan hockey Olympian and won bronze in Montreal 1976
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2012.