Highs and Lows of Pakistan sports

The Express Tribune reviews the performance of prominent national sports and the rising stars of 2013. DESIGN / ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID AND TALHA KHAN

Tennis

The highlight of the year was Aisamul Haq Qureshi’s win in the ATP 1000 Miami Masters doubles event in March. Aisam is the only Pakistani to win a title of this magnitude.

The national tennis ace won another ATP title in Stockholm and finished as a finalist at the Marseille Open and Portugal Open along with his doubles partner Jean-Julien Rojer.

The pair reached two semi-finals last year, besides that they played six quarter-finals including the US Open, Monte Carlo, Nice, Montreal, Shanghai Open and Paris Masters before playing the ATP World Tour in London to wrap up the year among the top eight teams in the world.

Together Aisam and Rojer are ranked sixth in the ATP doubles list, but Aisam has decided to reunite with India’s Rohan Bopanna for 2014.

Aisam also holds the 15th position in the world among the doubles individual rankings.

At 33, Aisam does not have a long road to travel, he has to play at his very best and hope for luck to favour him in order to win a maiden grand slam title in 2014.

On the other hand, Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) received a harsh verdict by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) when a Sri Lankan umpire awarded Pakistan’s home tie taking place in Myanmar in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Zone Group II tie to New Zealand in April.

The umpire ruled out any chances for Pakistan to regain their home-tie stating that the courts provided by the PTF in Myanmar were ‘unplayable’. After the disappointment  Pakistan lost their second round tie to New Zealand 4-1

The PTF raised the issue with the ITF but to no avail. Pakistan’s key players Aisam and Aqeel Khan had aimed to take the team into the next round which would have confirmed a berth in Davis Cup Group I.

The two have another chance of ensuring that the national team makes it to Group 1 in 2014, but for their dream to come true they would have to first topple Vietnam in February. A win here will give a semi-final berth and a possible opening for Group 1 qualification.

Football

The 22-year-old Kaleemullah can easily be termed the best emerging football star in the country.

The Chaman-based striker made his mark this year for the national side in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup qualifiers and the South Asian Football Championship, but also for his club Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), as they became the first Pakistani team to play the AFC President’s Cup final.

Kaleemullah scored a goal in March for Pakistan to ensure the consolation win in the Challenge Cup against Macau 2-0 and later in the SAFF Championship with a goal against Bangladesh.

But his true potential came through in the AFC President’s Cup, when he scored seven goals for KRL in the three rounds of the tournament, before making it to the final in September.

He scored five goals against Bhutan’s Yeezdin FC in the President’s Cup first round match in May, and later scored the all-important winner against Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi FC in the opening match of the second round of the tournament in September.

Kaleemullah was also the scorer in the crucial match against Palestine’s Hilal Al-Quds FC that helped KRL to book their place in the President’s Cup final against Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC, which they lost 1-0.

Despite the defeat, Kaleemullah remained the second highest goal scorer in the President’s Cup with seven international goals.

Kaleemullah’s journey throughout the year remained an exciting one, just like the overall scenario of Pakistan football that saw another change at the helm with Bahraini Mohamed Shamlan’s appointment as coach in August. He replaced Serbia’s Zavisa Milosavljevic as head coach after Pakistan’s devastating defeat 0-3 against Afghanistan in a friendly before Saff Championship.

Pakistan struggled in the AFC Challenge Cup, losing two out of three matches in March, and later failed to qualify for the SAFF Championship semi-finals. But the team improved on their rankings from 189 in January 2012 to 172 in December.

Pakistan’s best ranking was 167 this year in November. They won five, drew three and lost six out of the 14 matches played in 2013.

Snooker

In terms of laurels and glory brought to Pakistan in the field of sports, snooker is at the top by a fair distance for 2013.

It would not be wrong to say that the past 12 months have probably been the best period ever for snooker in the country.

The critics, who thought that Mohammad Asif’s world championship title was a fluke, were reminded of his talent and skill set as Asif went on to bag the Asian Six Red title.

At a time when Asif was blossoming at the international stage and senior players in Pakistan improving their standard of play, juniors started to make their presence felt in both the domestic and international circuits.

The likes of Mohammad Majid Ali, Hamza Akbar and Asjad Iqbal gave the impression that there is abundance of talent in the upcoming cueists as well. With training attained from international coaching clinics, courtesy of Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Association (PBSA), Majid snapped a silver medal in Asian U21 Championship where he lost in the final.

There was more success for Pakistan as the deadly duo of Asif and Mohammad Sajjad clinched the maiden IBSF World Team Championship to add another crown in 2013.

With the year drawing to a close all the eyes were on Asif, who was aiming to defend his world title in Latvia, but he failed in his bid. However, Sajjad made sure that the country ends up with something substantial in the event by winning the bronze medal for making it to the semi-finals.

Despite all these achievements, snooker and cueists continue to be neglected by both government and Pakistan Sports Board (PSB). The authorities have not only kept Asif and Sajjad waiting for their cash awards but they have also failed in increasing annual and specials grants for snooker.

Pakistan is set to host the World Six Reds Championship in 2014; leading players from around the world will congregate in Karachi for the glittering event, which can help boost the chances of international sporting action of repute returning to the country.

Cricket

Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records.

At the ripe age of 39, Pakistan’s One-Day International (ODI) and Test captain Misbahul Haq rose high amid heavy criticism in 2013. Twelve months ago, he was tagged ‘tuk tuk’ but his consistent run throughout the year has turned his critics into fans, foes into friends.

Misbah is walking into the New Year as the top scorer in ODIs in 2013, amassing a commendable 1,373 runs from 32 innings at an excellent average almost touching 55.

He surpassed batting great Sachin Tendulkar (2007) and South Africa’s maestro Gary Kirsten’s (2000) feats of 13 half-centuries in a calendar year, with a tally of 15 fifties.

In addition, he overcame compatriot Mohammad Yousuf who scored 1,362 runs, becoming the second Pakistani after Saeed Anwar (1,595 runs, 1996) to score most runs in ODIs in a calendar year.  The experienced batsman narrowly missed former Australia captain Ricky Ponting’s record of most runs (1,424 runs, 2007) as a captain. Misbah was also impressive in the longer version, chipping in with 570 runs in seven Tests at an average of 47.5.

The year leaves behind a tale of mixed fortunes

Barring Misbah, Pakistan team known for inconsistency and unpredictability did their reputation no harm in a topsy-turvy year. It touched the lows – stunning defeats against low-profile Zimbabwe and a winless show in ICC’s Champions Trophy and reached new highs —the one-day series triumph against South Africa, which none of their predecessors succeeded in achieving.

Pakistan remained disappointing in Tests, winning just two, while losing five out of seven matches they played, including a whitewash defeat to South Africa.

Dav Whatmore, who will say goodbye as head coach, will not be taking any Test series triumph under his belt, unless his team topples Sri Lanka in the series that begins today.

In ODIs, Pakistan ended with seven series triumph — India, Scotland, Ireland, West Indies, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Out of 34 matches they played, Misbah’s men maintained the exact 50 percent success rate – winning 16 and losing as many matches with two ending in ties. Interestingly, the men in green include the highest run-scorer and the highest wicket-taker Saeed Ajmal (62 wickets). They have also lost most ODIs this year.  Comparatively, Pakistan were impressive in Twenty20s, securing eight wins from 12 matches, and losing just four games under Mohammad Hafez’s captaincy.

Fast-bowler Umar Gul, who missed the best part of the year due to a knee injury, also gave fans reasons to smile by winning the ICC Twenty20 Performance of the Year for his five-for against South Africa in Centurion.

PCB’s chairman dilemma continues

Although, Pakistan players kept a distance from off-field controversies, the dilemma of the PCB’s chairman made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The controversy started when the Islamabad High Court suspended Zaka Ashraf for holding ‘bogus’ election. It continues till date with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif-picked Najam Sethi, currently the chairman of the board’s Interim Management Committee waiting for a verdict by the same court on his fate.

On a brighter note, Pakistan introduced new players like Sohaib Maqsood, Sharjeel Khan, Bilawal Bhatti and Shaan Masood who have shown promise and sent out a positive signal for the future.

Squash

Squash in Pakistan may not have the flair and success of the past, but national players have been trying to redeem the country’s flailing pride in the past year.

The highlight of 2013 was Aamir Atlas Khan, who ended a 15-year drought for the country after he clinched a rather one-sided final to triumph at the FMC 17th Asian Individual Squash Championship, bulldozing Kuwait’s Abdullah Al Muzayen 3-0 in May.

Pakistani teenager Danish Atlas Khan celebrated his first time back in Jordan since winning the 2011 Asian Junior Championship by claiming his fifth PSA World Tour title at the First Insurance Open in October.

In the same month, Farhan Zaman moved to a career-best 71 after his achievements prior to the release of the rankings — for instance his victory in the DG Rangers (Sindh) Squash Championship in September.

Meanwhile, Farhan Mehboob became the first player of the year to win a title after beating the event’s top three seeds in the final of the CNS International in Karachi in December to bring the 2013 PSA World Tour programme to a triumphant conclusion.

Before this, his only other impressionable performance was at the Pakistan Circuit Number 4 where he made it to the semi-finals before crashing out.

However, Pakistan’s top player Nasir Iqbal, with a current world ranking of 54, has not shown the kind of form expected of the country’s number one player. He lasted a mere 28 minutes in the Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Championship’s main round in Manchester, England.

Even the top female player, Maria Toor, proved her mettle by winning the first Nash Cup for women in September, which was a big win for the country.

Overall, the national players performed admirably; if they stay consistent in the years ahead, the laurels lost in recent years can be won back. Pakistan has the potential, but the growing demands of the game need to be taken care of if the players are to emulate the greats of the past.

Hockey

Still struggling to live up to its resounding fame of yore, the national game of Pakistan dished out a mixed platter of results achieved in different tournaments this year.

Needless to say, the proportion of bitter pills far outweighed the sweet morsels embedded sparingly in the salver presented at the end of 2013.

The most heartbreaking loss for the country’s hockey was undoubtedly the team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup next year, an event that the greenshirts have won a record four times.

Besides winning the mega event in 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994, the greenshirts had never failed to qualify for the event; until now.

Starting with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in March, the Pakistan team won its opening match against New Zealand. However, subsequent losses and draws saw the greenshirts ending fifth in the six-nation tournament in Malaysia.

Next, they missed out on a chance to qualify for the World Cup when they crashed out of the Hockey World League after being beaten by South Korea in the quarter-finals.

This left them with one last shot for confirming their place in the World Cup — the Asia Cup.

Pakistan started out well in the event, earning three back-to-back wins against Japan, Malaysia and Chinese Taipei respectively.

But once again, it was South Korea who prevented the greenshirts from forging ahead; the semi-final loss ended Pakistan’s hopes of entering arguably the most prestigious event in hockey that they had won four times in the not-so-distant past.

The team came back from the Asia Cup with a bronze medal courtesy the consolation victory against Malaysia.

However, the damage was done. No matter how much the status of hockey has paled in the face of cricket, the World Cup disqualification was a huge blow for the nation. Even Pakistan’s successful defence of their Asian Champions Trophy title later in the year offered only a mere consolation.

There are no individual performances to write home about either; only the retirement of Pakistan’s most capped player Waseem Ahmed is something that may affect the game in some way next year.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Bilal
    Dec 31, 2013 - 3:12PM

    I believe youngsters from Layari and Balochistan are extremely talented in football.They should be getting more chances.A football academy of national level should be set up at Quetta.

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