Recently, Pakistan’s Development Hockey Squad visited Oman to play a five-match series against Oman’s national team. The matches were played at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex hockey ground in Muscat. The development squad won three matches. The first and last matches ended in draw.
Development Squad’s manager Usman Sheikh, a former Pakistan captain, was part of the national team from 1994-2002. The right half played a stellar role in Pakistan’s victorious march at the 1994 World Cup.
He speaks about the Oman sojourn.
Overall view of the development squad’s performance?
“A good learning tour for our boys! It was a hastily arranged bunch of players and we only had a nine-day preparatory camp. The team won the series by a fair margin remaining undefeated throughout. Importantly, players got good competition. As you know, Oman have been figuring regularly on the international scene for quite some time now. Their national team has a strong coaching staff headed by the Indian Olympian C Poonacha. Pakistan’s former junior international Shakir Munir is their goalkeeping coach. This series was part of the Oman team’s preparation for the Asia Cup next month in Bangladesh.
“It didn’t take us long to realize that Oman were no pushovers. In the first match, Pakistan trailed by two goals. The boys made a good comeback to level the scores. The development squad went on to win the next three matches and it was the better side through most phases during these games. But the hosts did provide anxious moments, particularly in the fourth match. Oman once again scored two early goals. It speaks of our boys’ fighting spirit that they not only drew level but came out 4-2 winners. The 1-1 draw in the last match was a bit disappointing. However, one must praise the Omani goalkeeper who had an outstanding game. Perhaps, Pakistanis were somewhat relaxed having already won the series.”
The overall strategy/game plan?
“We had planned aggressive hockey. The boys followed it most of the time. In addition, they were told to dominate the midfield and avoid being defensive at any stage. Our players remained goal hungry almost throughout. All the three victories came with a margin of two or more goals.”
The most encouraging thing about these boys?
“They possess the talent to excel at the bigger stage. The age is on their side; 80 percent are under 23. The ability to improve is there. It must be remembered that only one member of this squad, Tazeem-ul-Hassan, has been part of the national senior team. Some have appeared for the age group teams. Five players had their first-ever selection for Pakistan’s any representative team. On the basis of performance in this series, the management of Development Squad recommended the names of seven members for the final trials of the Pakistan team for the Asia Cup: Hafiz Umair (goal keeper), Mubashir, Atiq, Naveed, Shajeeh Ahmed, Aamer Ali & Shan Irshad.”
Any weak links?
“The coordination was not satisfactory. It can be put down to the fact that they were playing together for the first time as a team, and had a very short training camp. Finishing in the circle left a lot to be desired; easy chances were missed. Fitness also requires improvement, which is of utmost importance in today’s hockey.”
The attendance, and coverage of the series?
“There were good crowds, mostly expat Pakistanis, in all the matches. It was overflowing at the last match and many couldn’t enter the stadium. The newspapers gave good coverage and the last match was televised live.”
The experience of representing Pakistan in Oman?
“Pakistani ambassador H.E. Javed Ali was instrumental in getting the two main sponsors for the series: Mr Yasin Bhatti, an expat Pakistani, the owner of the Stars Light LLC, and Syed Fayyaz Ali Shah, an Omani of Pakistani origin who is the MD of Syed Fayyaz Group. Pakistan School Muscat invited the team over a lunch. The students performed on the stage and the players gave tips to the members of the school hockey team.
“Oman Hockey Association were wonderful hosts. They provided us with excellent accommodation, food and transport.
Here, I must mention the role of Pakistan’s former junior international Shakir who is working as the goalkeeping coach of the Oman national team for many years. Now, he is also wearing the hat of OHA’s international relations manager. He was involved in all the aspects. In fact, it was Shakir and Dr Khamis al Rahibi, the secretary general of OHA, who presented the Pakistani ambassador with the idea of holding this Oman Pakistan Friendship Cup 2017. After this success, there are hopes of the event becoming an annual affair.
“PHF should arrange development squad’s tours regularly. The players on the fringe of national selection get useful international exposure in this way. This also puts pressure on the national team’s members who see second string’s players breathing down their neck.”
Oman gaining strength
Oman might not be a world beater but have improved a lot in recent times. The country has become a regular participant on the international circuit, especially the continental competitions. In addition to the last three Asian Games, Oman figured in the Asia Cup for the first time in 2013 (will participate again this October) and also appeared in the last two editions of the Asian Champions Trophy. The under-21 side was at the 2015 Junior Asia Cup after finishing second to the hosts at the qualifiers in Bangladesh.
Oman has competed in all the three editions of the Hockey World League held so far, reaching the second round each time. In the last two editions — 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 — they almost reached the semi-final stage.
Their domestic structure is very well organised and competitive, with clubs hiring foreign players. Many Pakistani and Indian Olympians have plied their trade there.
Ijaz Chaudhry (Media Manager – PHF)