There were plenty of stars for Pakistan in the year, some old magicians who still have the flame burning while others brought renewed hope to the nation for the future.
The Express Tribune’s sports staff lists just a few of those who did matter in 2012…
Critics were calling for Shakeel Abbasi’s head after a poor Olympics but the forward proved his worth by bagging the player-of-the-tournament award in the Champions Trophy, helping Pakistan to a bronze. His brace against Germany in the quarter-final paved way for Pakistan’s first semi-final appearance in eight years. Abbasi was a star performer for the Greenshirts in 2012.
“I knew that I could deliver the goods for the team,” Abbasi told The Express Tribune after the team’s return from Melbourne. “I am 100% fit and can be compared with any youngster in the side. And that’s why I have no plans of retiring in the near future.”
The Pakistan star player was also part of the national team which finished seventh in the London Olympics, so for him to put the disappointment behind him and improve over the course of the year was phenomenal. The resurgence is not going to stop, according to Abbasi, as he is targeting the 2014 World Cup as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Most Pakistanis had not even heard of Mohammad Asif before December 2 — the day he was crowned the World Amateur Snooker Champion in Bulgaria.
Asif became only the second Pakistani to win the event after Mohammad Yousuf (1994) and his path to the top of the world was not an easy one. It was no different from most other athletes of the country with struggles aplenty and lack of resources and financial support hampering his progress. It is astounding to think that the 30-year-old was on the brink of skipping the global event after the Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Federation’s failure to finance his trip. Thankfully, personal sponsorships helped him board the plane and come back with the trophy.
Asif grew into the game after spending countless hours at his local snooker club in Faisalabad. His success is the result of his talent and determination, something that kept him going despite the limitations. Asif’s achievements in 2012 should serve as a stepping stone by the authorities, who need to realise that individuals like him deserve attention and support. The talented cueist now plans to step it up and enter the professional circuit. If the amateur title is something he was able to achieve without proper support, it shows what can be achieved by him and many others if adequate backing is received from sports bodies.
Pakistan’s achievement in the tennis court came from a rather unexpected name this year.
While Aisamul Haq Qureshi won titles and impressed in Grand Slams, the good news came in the form of Nofil Kaleem. The 13-year-old started playing tennis just two years ago but made history after becoming the first Pakistani to be named top junior player in the Asian rankings.
The Asian Tennis Federation announced their annual rankings in November and Kaleem topped the list with 1,220 points after playing nine regional tournaments in Qatar, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Kaleem won two ATF doubles and one singles title where he outplayed India’s Bijay Kumar Mohanty, who is among the top five players. Before opting to represent Pakistan, Kaleem won 16 national U14 titles to become Pakistan number one in October 2011.
“Nofil’s achievement was really unexpected but it does give us hope,” Pakistan number one Aqeel Khan told The Express Tribune. “Kaleem’s top ranking in Asia sends out a good message. It will help save tennis in Pakistan too. Unless players win tournaments, people will not pay any sort of attention to them.”
For 2013, Kaleem has set his eyes on ATF tournaments in Thailand and Malaysia, hoping to maintain his rankings for another year at least.
Dr Mohammad Ali Shah
Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) talks of reviving international cricket in the country was reduced to dust when one man, Dr Mohammad Ali Shah, took it upon himself to do what the cricket board could not as he hosted a set of international players for two matches in Karachi.
Sindh’s sports minister, despite suffering from serious illness, splashed millions on former internationals to tour Karachi and tell the world that it’s safe to play in the country. Despite being shadows of their past prime, Sanath Jayasuria, Andre Nel, Ricardo Powell and Nantie Hayward among others handed the cricket-starved nation a lot to cheer about and gave hope that international cricket might just been seen in Pakistani’s stadiums some time soon. The PCB, when the initial plan was revealed, refused to endorse the event, forcing Brian Lara to pull out. Whether the cricket board wanted all the laurels coming their way or were cutting off ties in case something bad might have happened is anyone’s guess, but what Dr Shah managed to pull off should give a clear message to the PCB as well – nothing is impossible.
Pakistan’s secret weapon has been fast-bowling. At a time when the team lacked a quality one at that, Saeed Ajmal rose through the ranks and provided Pakistan with hope.
The 35-year old remained the team’s best performer throughout the year in all formats. His doosras and teesras mesmerised batsmen all over the world, not least the English batsmen who were left licking their wounds after a humiliating whitewash at the start of the year. Questions were asked of his action – cleared by the International Cricket Council – as the English team struggled to find answers but to no avail. All this while the venom spread and Ajmal kept on striking. He took 39 wickets in six Tests that Pakistan played in 2012 but his magic worked in limited-overs cricket too. He remained on top of the ICC’s Twenty20 rankings and kept himself in the top-three ODI rankings. Despite the heroics, he was ignored for the ICC’s top award in the autumn. But the snub only made him stronger as he strived to improved even further.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2012.