Redemption time for Pakistan hockey team

By Avishek Roy, IANS
Friday, October 1, 2010

NEW DELHI - When Pakistan take on Scotland in their Commonwealth Games men’s hockey opener Oct 5, they will need to shake off the ghosts of their horrible outing in the World Cup this year.

It was here, also at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, eight months ago that Pakistan succumbed to their worst performance in the World Cup, finishing with a wooden spoon.

What followed was high drama as the entire squad announced retirement taking responsibility for the humiliation. Coach Shahid Ali Khan and the entire selection panel were sacked.

Since then the players have come back to the national team. And a new coach, Dutchman Michel van den Heuvel, who guided Holland to the World Cup bronze, took over.

Pakistan, who won the silver in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games four years ago, will have a lot to prove.

Much will depend on the experience of Waseem Ahmad, Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi and captain Zeeshan Ashraf, all part of the World Cup team, to motivate the youngsters.

Butt admits it will be difficult to forget what happened in the World Cup.

“Yes, we will be conscious of the fact that we fared so poorly here. The controversy that followed is a thing of the past and we have moved on. But the only way we can completely erase that frightful memory is by putting up a good performance in the Commonwealth Games,” Butt told IANS.

“We told everyone then that we were not such a bad team. We cannot finish last and we still believe that. We have to prove it here,” said the star forward.

“As an experienced pro, our job is to make the youngsters feel at ease and soak the pressure of big matches.”

Butt said the team had improved a lot under the new coach but the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games would be the real test.

“We performed well in our European tour. We beat Holland. It has given us a lot of confidence. The coach has worked a lot on different aspects of our game. This will be the first tournament in which he will guide us and we hope everything falls in place.

“We will give our best in every match. This will also serve as a preparation for the Asian Games (at Guangzhou, China) in November,” Butt said.

The infusion of some fresh legs has been a positive development. “Now it is a good mixture of youngsters and senior players,” Abbasi told IANS.

“Also, now the approach is to fight till the end. We can’t afford to relax at any stage.

“We have high hopes from players like Mohammad Imran, Shafqat Rasool and Muhammad Tauseeq. They are quite promising and we hope that they come good here.

“Imran has been doing well in drag flicking and has close to 100 goals now. He has not made us feel the absence of Sohail Abbas.”

The big match against India will be a battle of nerves but forwards Butt and Abassi say they are ready.

“It was a packed stadium here last time and we know it will be the same this time. India and Pakistan matches are a treat for every hockey lover. We are excited and looking forward to take on India,” says Abassi.

India outplayed Pakistan 4-1 in the World Cup opener Feb 28.

Filed under: Commonwealth Games, Hockey

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