Two of Asia’s hockey powerhouses, India and Pakistan, have not played a bilateral series since 2006. Efforts were made to restart in 2013 but it never took off. Though no concrete interest has been shown by both the respective hockey federations or the respective governments to resume the rivalry, there were talks of Oman hosting a bilateral or a tri-nation series involving India and Pakistan during the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) Congress held in Muscat in April.
During the AHF Congress, the world hockey (FIH) chief, Narinder Batra, had told Muscat Daily that Oman could host an international bilateral or a tri-series. Muscat had even emerged as a favourite to host the home games for Pakistan in the Champions League.
However, since then, there has been no progress on the hosting of the series. The recent visit of Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) secretary and former Pakistan captain Shahbaz Ahmed Senior, to Muscat once again brought the matter into focus and the top PHF official was open to a proposal of a Test series between Indian and Pakistan in Muscat.
“We are open to the idea of playing in Muscat, which is like a second home for us. There is a huge expatriate population of Pakistanis and Indians and the facilities are good. Any
India-Pakistan match is like a blockbuster and produces sensational games,” said Shahbaz.
“Frankly, we have not yet received any written request or proposal from the Oman Hockey Association (OHA) or the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF)
on the hosting of India-Pakistan Tests in Oman. We are ready to play but a formal written request has to be made before we can think about it,” said the 49 year old star, the only player to have won two consecutive player of the tournament awards at the World Cups in 1990 and 1994.
Though India and Pakistan have not played in a bilateral series since 2006, the two arch-rivals have faced each other at the World Cup, Champions Trophy, Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, Asian Games, Asia Cup, South Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and recently at the FIH Hockey World League.
Shahbaz said that the lack of bilateral sporting ties between India and Pakistan has harmed the growth of the game. “India and Pakistan matches are loved by fans across the world as the atmosphere is usually electric. The lack of bilateral series have certainly affected the game in both countries,” said Shahbaz, considered to be one of the greatest forwards ever.
The World-Cup winning captain, who played in three Olympics, said his aim is to revive Pakistan hockey and has drawn plans to achieve it.
“We have qualified for next year’s World Cup in India and recently had a meeting in Dubai with the FIH chief on facilitating our team’s visit to India.”
About his team’s prospects at next year’s World Cup, he said, “I think if Pakistan can finish among the top-six, it would be an achievement in itself. We have talented players but the need for them is to focus on physical fitness. The squad at the World Cup will be a mix of young and experienced players. We may even have even two-three players from the development squad that played in Oman.”