Hall of fame: Shahbaz Ahmed — the Maradona of Hockey

Published: May 28, 2014
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With his trademark dribbling skills and crossfield runs, Shahbaz possessed the rare ability of producing magic when least expected. PHOTO: commons.wikimedia.org

With his trademark dribbling skills and crossfield runs, Shahbaz possessed the rare ability of producing magic when least expected. PHOTO: commons.wikimedia.org

In the assembly line of hockey stalwarts from Pakistan, forwards have made a telling contribution. Islahuddin Siddiqui, Hassan Sardar, Shahnaz Sheikh, Samiullah, Tahir Zaman and Waseem Feroz were all considered wizards, who could pierce through opposition defence like a knife through butter.

But one man arguably ranks higher than any player in the history of the game; his control of the hockey ball, lightening runs from one end of the field to another, razor sharp and accurate passes for the centre forwards made him the ‘Maradona of hockey’.

Shahbaz Ahmed captained Pakistan to the 1994 World Cup title in Sydney, the last global triumph for the country in the much loved national sport.

His performance in the final against the Netherlands is considered by many as one of the greatest displays of dribbling, body dodges, ball control and stick work the world has ever seen.

Despite his wonderful display, the match ended in a 1-1 stalemate after the allotted 70 minutes and in a repeat of the semi-finals (against Germany) the greenshirts prevailed after a nail-biting penalty shootout. In the tie-breaker against Germany, Shahbaz’s feeble push barely succeeded in making it over the line (he was not a regular penalty stroke taker, but since most players froze under pressure Shahbaz took the challenge head-on).

One can’t doubt that destiny and lady luck was on the Faisalabad-based player’s side, who did everything but single-handedly win the title during the  1990 World Cup final, also against the Netherlands in front of a 60,000 strong crowd in Lahore.

From 1990 to 1994, Shahbaz was by a country mile the best player in the game, he won the man of the tournament awards in both the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and had a bigger impact than any other player in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as Pakistan grabbed the bronze medal.

With his trademark dribbling skills and crossfield runs, Shahbaz possessed the rare ability of producing magic when least expected.

His main asset was his incredible fitness; a lithe and agile athlete who had supple muscle and powerful legs that helped him run around the field with ease.

During his playing days, the green shirts were a powerhouse at the regional level, especially against archrivals India. The 1990 Asian Games and the 1989 Asia Cup were won thanks to the sublime performance of the great forward in crucial games.

Shahbaz’s heroics in the Asia Cup final at Delhi left the Indian supporters rattled and frustrated as Pakistan lifted the trophy. The team bus was attacked by hooligans on their way to the hotel, slightly injuring some of the players.

But it wasn’t India alone that bore the brunt of Shahbaz’s prowess; even the Australia and the European teams held him in great regard.

The respect that the forward received on and off the field made him one of the most likeable players of his era. Rarely was he seen arguing with the umpires and experts often quipped that a player of his ability was too good to indulge in unnecessary antics.

Shahbaz was awarded some of the greatest accolades and awards in the country, including the Pride of Performance and Hilal-e-Pakistan awards.

He had an unflinching desire to bow out on a high and made more than one comebacks to the national fold. Unfortunately, Shahbaz was a shadow of his former self in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and his last few days on the pitch petered out unceremoniously.

1994 was the last year of global success for the national hockey team; after Shahbaz’s retirement, it seems that a whole generation of Pakistan’s talent vanished. Twenty years have passed, but the memories of his breathtaking runs against Australia, Germany and the Netherlands are etched in memories of millions.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Caresless Whispers
    May 28, 2014 - 2:37AM

    Grew up watching Shahbaz playing Hockey, without any doubt one of the best player Pakistan hockey have produced, he is a legend….

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  • May 28, 2014 - 3:02AM

    fall of fame suits this article more

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  • May 28, 2014 - 4:30AM

    great hockey player, we are proud on you Sir!

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  • String theory.
    May 28, 2014 - 4:45AM

    Thanks to give us such beautiful article on one the hardest and fast sport of world called hockey. It is real man game … Else cricket occupy the Pakistani youth and lead to slow movers

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  • Nasir
    May 28, 2014 - 5:47AM

    Well… nice article. I think these articles should be published to refresh the nostalgia in hockey and cricket. After all this is what is left for Pakistan to cherish…. the good memories of the past. Since the current state of affairs in the whole country and the circus in Cricket and Hockey has destroyed these two games in this country.

    Thanks to politicizing Hockey by “democratic” governments in an undemocratic manner.

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  • AS
    May 28, 2014 - 6:26AM

    Long overdue for this chap to be featured. One thing I remember he was referred to as Shahbaz Senior in his playing days. Awesome were those days for Pak Hockey.

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  • Hassam
    May 28, 2014 - 7:18AM

    Thank God some one wrote on hockey.I myself played hockey but left it as i didn’t see any incentives.I saw Pak V Ned Final of 1994 on youtube and no wonder Shehbaz was the best in that game. I wish some one could make a documentary on Shehbaz Senior and on Squash legends of Pak.

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  • Muhammad Rizwan Ali
    May 28, 2014 - 7:31AM

    Yes, the SHAHBAZ great even greatest..
    But why we not request him to come forward and do some best for current Hockey team,
    We must request him, not ask him..

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  • Syed
    May 28, 2014 - 9:16AM

    @ Ali, there are more positives in life then you think.

    No doubt he was the best of the lot, and I recently saw his interview for India Hockey league. He was impressive and humble.
    We should all learn from him and specially our current hockey management.

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  • JQ
    May 28, 2014 - 10:32AM

    Hale ! I watched the winning world cup of 1994 when Mr. Shahbaz last came to hit the penalty and miss out the power and the ball slowly crawled the Goal line.

    This was the end of Pakistan National Game “Hockey”

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  • Faisal
    May 28, 2014 - 10:46AM

    Can’t forget the sight of seeing him tearing apart the defenses almost every time he had the possession.

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  • Dani
    May 28, 2014 - 10:49AM

    Good old days when commentators were shouting in excitement … “Shahbaz…Shahbaz …Shahbaz … aur yeh goaaaaaaaaaal ” :)

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  • Usman
    May 28, 2014 - 11:15AM

    There is a pattern to the comments made by this guy Ali ( probably not even his real name) in the articles he been commenting on this news website. Full on negativity and vendetta for any thing written even remotely positive for Pakistan. Most probably an Indian troll. Get a life.

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  • Asif
    May 28, 2014 - 12:02PM

    I still remember the voice…Shahbaz senior (and his great play)…..great moments that were…Hope will able to see that triumph in our national sport again in life time.

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  • Jack
    May 28, 2014 - 3:28PM

    He penalty stroke you wrote about was not in the Final. It was against Germany in the semi final.

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  • Rehan
    May 29, 2014 - 10:00AM

    Indeed, a valuable asset of Pakistan Hockey.

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  • Ahmer Ali Khan
    May 29, 2014 - 11:31AM

    On one occasion, another great and legend of his own kind, Dhanraj Pillay said, “If I and Shahbaz were in the same team, we would have ruled the hockey world”.

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  • Usman Sherazi
    May 29, 2014 - 4:17PM

    Please rectify your records. Pakistan LOST to Netherlands in the 1990 World Cup in Lahore after late Qazi Mohib (RIP) missed a penalty stroke.
    Shahbaz was undoubtedly a hockey wizard, and a treat to watch, but he DID NOT “single handedly” win the 1990 World Cup as being mentioned in this article. Thank you.

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  • May 29, 2014 - 7:09PM

    @Ahmer Ali Khan:
    Its a bit over statement i guess.

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  • bilal
    May 29, 2014 - 9:13PM

    Great player. People like him should be given honurary positions in the Gov’t of Pakistan.

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  • May 29, 2014 - 10:54PM

    @bilal:
    Why don’t make him coach to groom young hockey players and made hockey academy with international standard on his name.Utilize his extra ordinary talent instead of wasting his talent when our young players can learn a lot from his skills and experience.

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  • Emmad
    May 30, 2014 - 12:16AM

    @Usman please read the piece again… no where has it been mentioned that Pakistan won the 1990 World Cup….. “everything but singlehandedly win the title”…… 1990 final Pakistan lost 1-3 to The Netherlands and 1994 they won against the same opponents in the final via a penalty shoot-out. In the major titles caption the 1994 WC is mentioned not the 1990.

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  • May 31, 2014 - 10:16PM

    A truly Amazing Pakistani sportsperson.

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  • Harish Puri
    Jun 8, 2014 - 6:26PM

    An all time great – along with Mohd Shahid of India!

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