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When we were champions

When we were champions

Hassan Sardar to Kalimullah, Kalimullah takes the ball into the D, he dodges one, two players, he shoots. Kalimullah has just scored a goal for Pakistan in the Olympics” This is an example of some of the voices that are burnt into my memory. Voices from a time when there was one channel on television, and the two most important events for Pakistani viewers were the nine o’ clock khabarnama or any hockey match that Pakistan team played.

Many people wonder why hockey is Pakistan’s national sport given that cricket seems to dominate the nation’s thoughts. But those who had the privilege to see the Pakistan team in action against West Germany during the 1984 Olympics understand why this is the case.

Back then, we were not just the winners of an Olympic gold medal, we also created history. In that game, the Pakistan side introduced a new tactic – the dribble – to the art of hockey playing.

This was not surprising given Pakistan’s consistent performance in the sport. After winning the Olympic gold in 1960, Pakistan made it to the finals in 1964, 1968 (when they took home another gold medal), and 1972.

Pakistan was to field hockey what Brazil is to football. Our players moved the ball at the end of their sticks at such a pace that they would often beat three or four defenders to strike at the opponent’s goal. The players’ speed was unmatched, earning them nicknames such as The Flying Horse. (Samiullah, who was given that moniker, was one of our dribbling greats.)

Sunday’s hockey match against India was disappointing to watch, not because we lost, but because it was quite obvious that Pakistan has abandoned its famed dribbling skills and switched to the conventional long pass, penalty corner strategy that has been put to efficient use by European teams in the last decade. It is understandable that our hockey play has evolved to incorporate these strategies because the playing surface has changed to AstroTurf. Still, it was sad to see that we have forgotten why we were once champions.

Today, we boast a forward such as Rehan Butt, but rather than play on the offensive, we are focusing on getting penalty corners and handing the ball over to Sohail Abbas. Not that I have anything against Abbas: he is fantastic in his own right and is the only man to score above 300 goals in hockey. But penalty corners, of which, on Sunday, he could convert only one out of six, suggest that he’s not the right man to set a field on fire.

Hockey will always be as much a mental and morale-driven game as it is a physical one, and the sight of a couple of Pakistani players blazing down the field dribbling through an opponent’s defences is one that is bound to intimidate the competition.

We need to get back to our basics if we want to reach the later stages of this world cup. Rather than appropriate a robotic, European style of play, we should embrace our natural game. Imitation may be a great form of flattery, but why imitate when one possesses such talent? Its time we abandon adaptation and let improvisation flow.

faisalkapadia80 Faisal Kapadia is a Karachi-based entrepreneur and writer. He blogs at Deadpan Thoughts.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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57 Responses to “When we were champions”

  1. Sadia says:

    Absolutely those were the days when Pakistan Hockey Team ruled over entire hockey world just because of quality gaming & proper team planning! I think we lost everything in this decade.

  2. cdr80 says:

    Congratulations to the Pakistan team for a brilliant performance! You did it!! You succeeded in being first from the last.

    Definitely an Achievement.

    • vijay, India says:

      Dear CDR
      Why blame the team?
      There are others also. In my post yesterday, I have said that subcontinent hockey was destroyed by the Europeans. My sincere wish is that both Pak and India should go back to the traditional hockey which was a treat to watch. Let us not go for euro style hockey which depends on speed rather than skill.

      • Cdr80 says:

        Dear Vijay,

        Thanks for your comments.

        Please consider the following, which may cast a different light to my comments. Regardless of who spoilt the game or made it go in their favor, it is us to blame for following in their footsteps and ignoring what we know and what we are good at.

        That is why I blame the team, the coaches and our general attitude these days.

  3. pdz says:

    In past Pakistan and India were the rulers of this game, however in recent times because of politics in game and carelessness, both are suffering and doesn’t look any kind of threat to other countries.
    Moreover I doubt how many people know about this game compare to cricket though its national sport in both the countries.

  4. OmarM says:

    I believe there is something awfully wrong at the very grass-root level — i.e. schools. Be it cricket or hockey or even squash, although it is not a team sport. There is just no passion. Can anyone look at the faces of the Pakistani players and say that they are playing to win — whatever sport it may be? As of now, I do not see any hopes for Pakistan.

    Pakistan has to stop boasting of their past glories and think about where we are headed!!!

  5. Cdr80 says:

    “Both the teams prepared & played well in their capacity.” WOW!! Brilliant approach!!
    I guess this is the type of attitude which has brought the standards and ambitions of the country to where they are today.
    Live in the past and shine on the glory of that time!

    We should have a new national sport for the country, Hockey, does not seem to cut it any more unless the country is still living in the glory of the past.

    Simply a disgrace.

  6. Abdullah Hussain says:

    India & Pakistan hockey teams are virtually out of the world cup. Both the teams prepared & played well in their capacity. To blame them for bringing disgrace to their respective fans will be dis-proportionate. Each member of the team prepared and played to the best of their ability, they deserve appreciations for this. The present day hockey is far more demanding and robust in character than the previous version when the game was dominated by the two Asian giants. Astro Turf was created with a purpose which is paying the dividend now. Play in Astro Turf demands 150% of physique & fitness (100% for running across the field & 50% for concentrating and playing the game). In my opinion if the Asian giants are to regain the past hockey glory, they have to match the Europeans in physique and fitness. Congratulations to Team India & Team Pakistan for their good efforts. Winning or loosing is a part of the game.



      The dribble we are all discussing was named the ‘Indian dribble’ only because it was a technique created in ‘unified India’ if you click on the above link its easy to see that it has been attributed to both the Indian and the Pakistani teams from those days.

      There is a reason why Pakistan has won so many accolades in hockey. India may have been the birthplace but not only were we part and parcel of India then but we perfected this technique and mixed other dribbling methods like the speed and the reverse dribble in it to create what only Pakistani players could do.

      I still stand with my opinion that if we are to progress, we have to go back to what we are good at, Astro turf or not, fitness is always key but the skill we have in hockey is unmatched and that skill is our own unique style of play.

  7. gaurav says:

    After watching Pakistan lose to England and India losing out to Spain, mind you both England and Spain are not the best hockey playing nations, it does strikes me that we can’t take on Europeans with their style of play. We simply don’t have the physical characteristics to match them, and it will be losing endeavor if we try doing so. Instead of trying to match or beat them in speed or stamina, we should try and play to our strengths. Players from the subcontinent show more ball and stick skills, though at a lower pace. We should devise strategies that would leverage these skills to our advantage.

  8. Hamid Baloch says:

    We should have never put Astro turf in our country. We were good playing on grass. At least we could win games on our home ground. If you take an example of American football, home team wins most of the time and home field plays a big role. For example, some stadiums in cold cities such as New York are open air so when a team from Los-Angles plays there in winter the home team has an advantage. We should have some Astro turf for practice but should keep our grass grounds.

  9. daryl says:

    The rules of the game of hockey has changed so much now a days that it is mostly meant for European style hockey, there is also bias against Indo – Pak players, I feel sad when I see the state of the game in India and Pakistan, both these countries should get together and some how control the games governing body, and see that the rules are not often changed to suit the Europeans, I was really happy that Pakistan beat Spain yesterday, I really want to see India and Pakistan in the finals of the WC.

    • vijay, India says:

      You are right daryl.
      The subcontinent hockey suffered due to the introduction of new rules/turf which suits Europeans.
      Now the best thing to do is to play the subcontinent hockey between India and Pakistan to keep alive the traditional hockey which requires lot of skills and strategy.

  10. Ghost says:

    Pakistan has produced some of the greatest hockey players in the history.
    I remember 1994 world cup final. Mansoor Ahmad stopping the last plenty stroke and awesome play through out the championship by SHEHBAZ Senior and Kamran Ashraf..

    Shehbaz was surly a gem.

  11. Zuhaib says:

    “But penalty corners, of which, on Sunday, he could convert only one out of six, suggest that he’s not the right man to set a field on fire.”..

    Just to add it to your comment, out of first 3 penalty corners taken by Sohail Abbas 2 of them hit on the cross bar and after that you could see the reaction on his face, he was clearly disappointed. If you play any sport then you must know how easy it is to loose focus when you are denied a chance and NOT by the opposition defence and even then only Sohail Abbas scored the goal.

    Beating a goal keeper and rest of the defense and not getting a goal is a matter of bad luck rather than calling HIM ‘not being the right man to set a field on fire’.

    I do agree with the rest of your post

  12. Mansoor Iqbal says:

    Yohooooooo!! Pakistan Win Against Spain :-D

  13. Tahir Alibeg says:

    Exactly– they should definitely play their natural game. They have done the same thing in cricket where they have started to focus on coaching and fielding, and somehow assumed that the likes of Rana would convert into Wasim Akrams because of that. And, in cricket, where the likes of Sehwag have started to play their natural game, India has broken the Australian mechanical and attritional juggernaut. Unfortunately, in hockey and cricket alike, Pakistan has assumed that somehow they can convert the likes of Kamran Akmal and Rana Naveed into cricketers despite their utter lack of talent. Pakistan rely on raw talent and Mohammad Aamer’s, Javed Miandad’s and the flying horse are what they need (both in cricket and hockey).

  14. mandar says:

    India – Pakistan hockey match does it count in international hockey its just rivalry between arch enemies you can say nothing much.

    India and Pakistan can’t match teams like Dutch, Germany, Australia, Spain in infrastructure and policy making.

    In India there are hardly 30-40 astro turf for billions of people may be same or more numbers in Pakistan.

    • Shubh says:

      Very right. Compare that with relatively poor nations like SA where every decent school will have separate facility for hockey/football/cricket etc. In India at least,(and would be surprised if Pakistan is any diff) 99% schools have a common ground used for all games. One coach is supposed to teach all students all games !!! well .. the result is clear.
      Having said all this, we would be very unlucky indeed if our policy makers focus on sports instead of more basic amenities for the respective nations.

  15. Naushad Shafkat says:

    Those were the glory days indeed! Most of us knew the names of the entire team and the positions they played at. Today what to speak of their positions we hardly know anyone by name. And teams like Holland and Germany with penalty corner experts like Paul Leitgen et al found it impossible to score even from penalty corners as Islahuddin reached the striker even before the ball did and broke quite a few hockey sticks in the process! And then we had Samiullah and Shehnaz Shaikh playing at left-out position playing as if the ball was glued to the side-lines and passing the ball to – no not anybody else but themselves! Where oh where is that art now?

  16. Ali Sarosh (Beijing) says:

    Well said…but it’s more about the system that produces greats than is about the greats themselves. Our kids live in a time when good schools do not offer sporting facilities and traditional schools with sports facilities do not get good students (neither academically nor sportingly). It is time Pakistan government should consider setting up “talent schools” across the country (like other government institutions) where national and other international sports should be taught as curriculum. Aspiring sportsmen should join these schools as early as 6~8 years of age. These schools can be affiliated to respective sports boards for test and examinations and talented individuals can be drawn directly from these institutions. That’s when we will start having a stream of young capable players flowing in continuously. For as long we do not commit ourselves to such programs we’ll keep relying on individuals and past performances.

  17. Sujay says:

    Pakistan has always been good at sports. One match shouldn’t bog you down. All the best INDIA and PAKISTAN, beat the Europeans.

    - Indian

  18. Yousuf says:

    As other writers have pointed out, dribbling was not discovered by Pakistanis but was mastered by Indians before partition. Nevertheless, for approximately 25 years, from the late 50′s to the mid 80′s Pakistan was the dominating force in hockey. The great names of Pakistan have been mentioned by others and were household names. Hassan Sardar and Manzur Jr. were arguably the greatest dribbler and their main technical advantage was that they kept the ball in front and away from their body and not in their shadow.

    I haven’t seen hockey for many years now and the last time I saw it around the last time Pakistan won the World Cup in Australia, the rules had changed so much that it was hard to follow what was going on. I understand the rules have changed substantially since then. Unfortunately, like most games, hockey has also become a “science” and natural ability is no longer the critical factor. Soccer, which I follow, has seen the same “science” take over including among “natural” teams like Brazil. Just watch the final of 1970 and 2002, both won by Brazil to see the difference in Brazilian style. Brazil has become “Europeanized”! Apparently that is the only formula left to win which means physical strength, strong discipline, strong defence and oh yes, ability achieved through rigorous practice!

  19. sheikh says:

    Well, Pakistan is a very good hockey nation and we should built on this, rather to remember how good were, and how we had all the titles, it’s always difficult for the champions to take the top spot and to defend, as always when you are at the top, everyone wants to beat you and you’re the target no1, all we need is to see why we were champions and what’s happening now, when it was natural grass we had it under our control now that the game has progressed and there are lots of countries, fancy there chances and as usual Europeans go for physical fitness and modern technique and they bring always the new ideas, so we have to be up beat with it, as we are a top nation for field hockey, we should go back to our drawing boards and reshape whatever needs changing and within no time, we will be upbeat. We should be proud of our passed glory, not that we must do the same, time doesn’t wait for anyone so let’s play hockey with 21st century style and we can do it again and again and again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Nice one. Incidentally, today only in the office we were recalling Hasan Sardar. In India, we were in awe of him, as also Shahbaz a decade later.

    Of course, we had Zafar Iqbal, Carvalho, Mohammad Shahid and Pargat. If there is sponsorship and proper attention apart from regular tests between India-Pakistan, it will again capture popular imagination.

  21. Momin ali says:

    Well I fell sorry for the Pakistani Team But yes its not the end of the world. The Team should analyze their mistakes and prepare for their next match and I wish them best of luck and pray for my home team. InshAllah they shall win.

  22. Sandeep says:

    Develop a market in India and Pakistan on lines of IPL. Show the world this game belongs to us because we have a huge fan following, switch back to natural turf, change any rules we find discriminatory.

  23. A. Hayi says:

    Nice post about the wonderful game of hockey.
    To me, Pakistan took too much pressure and its seniors including Rehan, Abbasi and Waseem did not perform well.
    Well I must say Sohail Abbas was upto the mark as two of his shorts were struck against the crossbar. So it could easily have been 3 out of 5 which is an excellent conversion ratio.
    Other good teams like Australia (lost first game) and Germany (drew first game) also had a bad start so it might be security concern that affected their game.

  24. Taita says:

    It is heartening to see DAWN blog populated with fresh posts and content. Well done and we look forward to more from Mr. Kapadia.

  25. Ayesha says:

    Faisal good to see your post @ Dawn Blog!

    Unlike Cricket I don’t understand the technicalities involved in Hockey but I really wish our team wins!

  26. Congrats to India they played a great game. I feel India and Pakistan should get together with other Asian teams to form a union so that the white teams do not call the shots according to their needs.
    My request to both India and Pakistan is let us join hands and move forward in all aspects of life not only sports, let us bury the hatchet and love one another; because we have the same culture, foods, music,etc.
    Chakde India/Pakistan

  27. Armaan 4m india says:

    Oh ! So many articles are coming against Pak team! India got huge support from crowd which was plus point ! Rather then thinking past Pak team and Pak people should work on how to improve their game! India crushed Pakistan I am really happy as I am Indian but India and Pakistan must beat Europeans to lift WC !

    • Ibrahim Shamsi says:

      Dude… the article is about Pakistan Hockey’s glorious past. Can you please come out of your shell of a world…. Its no big deal that India won the other day. Pakistan had also recently whooped India in India. Also let me educate you on Pakistan vs India hockey history a little more. Pakistan has through out history dominated India in hockey. One game really has no bearding. Also Pakistan holds over 4 World Cup titles compared to India’s 1 title. The World cup Hockey event itself was brought into existence by Pakistan.

    • Mohsin Syed says:

      This article is not at all against Pakistani team. It is just that how we could not build upon on glorious past when Pakistan defeated India on its own turf.
      Other day the game was just like an elder player making his younger brother to score some goals and be happy. We have seen what Pakistani team was capable of doing. They defeated the Olympic Silver Medalist to win 2-1. In my previous reply to Ms. Hafsa’s blog. I am sure that Pakistan team would be one of the top 4 teams in the tournament.

    • Fawad Siddiqui says:

      Don’t forget Armaan , that PAK came in WC after defeating India, WIN and LOSE is a part of every game.. PAK will be in a better position than India at the end of the tournment, INSHALLAH..

    • Tahir Rauf says:

      Yes, I think Armaan is right. We should have common front against Europeans. But at the same time, I was really disappointed by the quality of hockey, that Pakistani team plays. It was not our style. No dodge, no skill, nothing special.
      Shahbaz Senior, Sami Ullah, Salah ud din, Kaleem ullah ……… Where are you??????

  28. Naasir says:

    Indians and Pakistani hockey system was hijacked by the Eurpoeans and the Australians when they moved the game to astro turf. The rules were changed and so was the stick. Natural turf rewards talent while astro turf is a boon for people who are physically robust and fit. The Indian and Pakistani body is not as big as the European and neither do their diet promote such ‘bigness’. India, Pakistan and Malaysia should pool their resources to push for the traditional game and if need be, an alternative league be setup that promotes this kind of game.

    Having said that, India played a far superior game than Pakistan on that day. They had many more goal shots than Pakistan. Pakistan opted for long passes which in most cases were intercepted by the Indians.

    • Imran says:

      Dear Nasir,
      It is easy for us to blame the Europeans for “hijacking” the game but such antics don’t serve us well. In golf, the coming of Tiger Woods saw changes in golf course to counter his long game but as we have seen he only became better. Pakistani bowlers introduced reverse swing but other countries have worked to learn such techniques. So, we can either make excuses or improve our physical, technical and strategic capabilities. Pakistan reached the World Cup final in 90 and won it in 1994 long after astro turf was introduced. We have done it before and can do it again as long as we are prepared to put in the necessary effort and play as a team.

      As far as the connection between diet and body types, this is quite nonsensical. If diet and the resulting “bigness” were the main factors in Hockey, the Europeans and Australians would have reigned in the era of natural (grass) turf as well.

      The solution is to develop the necessary infrastructure throughout the country. This includes Astro turf surfaces, gyms, necessary coaching etc. Our kids grow up playing on natural turf while the Europeans have access to astro turf and the like. Surely, we can find funds for our national past time.

    • naeem says:

      I do not completely agree after watching India/Australia game. The Australians were playing with short passes and complete physical fitness where they outclassed the Indians. The Australian forward line was moving like a single wall short passing each other; they were fast and tired the Indians very quickly. I think what the Asians need to do is to put some healthy muscle on their bodies with stamina comparable to the Europeans, and skills matching to old style short passing combined with scooping and inventing new ways to hit the penalty corners. I was very happy to see that the South Koreans have adopted this strategy, and with their speed they have the ability to stand on the winning stand. India has also improved a lot but age factor is in their way. Pakistani team is relatively younger but it seems there are some coaching deficits, and need better physical fitness. Fitness, Fitness, Fitness with fast pace can outclass the opponents on Astro Truff.

  29. Anuj says:

    The World Cup is happening in Asia. This is not a time to berate a team which has lost a match, or for those who won to believe that all is over and they have won the world cup by winning a match. As an Indian, who truly believes this Asian century can prosper if the World Cup and many other acts that need victories of an international nature (peace, development and education, amongst others), I am hoping that the WC ends with 2 Asian teams or more making it to the last 4. Good Luck to us all.

  30. jamil says:

    They took care of dribbling long time ago by switching from grass to trough.
    While most of the games are still played on grass. So they put an end to our natural talent.
    Play on grass we will be back to our game.

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