The performance of Pakistan senior hockey team in Commonwealth Games was surprising not only for the fans of hockey but also the PHF itself. Hockey experts did not expect that they would play so well. Drawing matches against India and England, two of the strongest hockey teams, is no mean achievement.
Then, beating Canada 3-1 in the match for the seventh position was a feat too. They had been one goal behind till the second quarter. Interestingly, Pakistan played five matches in the event, four ended in draw and they won the match against Canada. They did not lose a single match. People had been saying that it would be okay even if they lost with dignity, showing some fighting spirit.
They held India, England and Malaysia to draw, all ranked higher.
It is rReally the appointment of Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans that has changed it all. The players’ attitude, spirit and playing style, everything was changed.
Pakistan had been losing to ordinary sides. The Green-shirts had been beaten by Canada and Japan and held to draw by Oman. They were thrashed 9-2 by Australia last year.
The Green-shirts failed to reach the semi-finals of the event but it was too much to expect them to qualify for that stage. Commonwealth Games had such teams as Australia, India, England and New Zealand.
It was, however, surprising that Pakistan played a draw against Wales 1-1. Wales’ world ranking is 23rd. And only 24 hours later, they managed to hold India to a 2-2 draw, playing outstanding hockey as they levelled the score when only seven seconds were left. India are ranked 6th in the world.
They did the same against England, playing a 2-2 draw. Remember this team had lost a practice match 5-3 against a local team before the event started.
It was the appointment of Roelant Oltmans as head coach of Pakistan hockey team which changed things.
This reporter met him during training sessions in Karachi and asked him how much time the Green-shirts would take in improving.
Oltmans only said that they could improve fast, slow or gradually. He said it all depends on the players’ steadfastness.
He said Pakistani players had talent, skills and passion but their physical fitness was not up to the mark.
Pakistan had been in isolation for several years which created a big gap with top hockey teams.
The performance of the players and results of four matches show that the Green-shirts are improving — not very fast but not slow either. They are playing attacking game, creating chances but failing to capitalise on them.
Pakistan’s penalty corner flicker Mubashar Ali emerged as their savior as he twice saved Pakistan from defeats — against India and England. Mubashar struck two goals on PC and saved Pakistan from defeat in the last moments.
Pakistan officials said they were satisfied as they thought that they were going to lose both matches. The players did not lose heart and kept attacking which bore fruit, they said.
All credit goes to Oltmans who not only improved the performance of the team, but also injected a new spirit in the boy. They are now ready to fight till the last moment.
Pakistan are to go to Holland in June to participate in the Champions Trophy, which is going to organised for the last time. Pakistan hockey team has been invited as Pakistan was the creator of this championship.
Champions Trophy will be the toughest event as the best teams of world hockey will be there. But Pakistan team management has already said that they are aiming to win the Asian Games which will be held in August and September. The Champions Trophy will be part of the preparation of Pakistan hockey team, it says.
The officials say they are working to improve the performance of Pakistan hockey team in the coming Asian Games, so that it first proves its dominance in Asia and through this event qualify for 2020 Olympics.
Syed Intikhab Ali (The News)