Australia deliver Coup de Grace to Pakistan and walk into the semis of London 2012 Olympic Games Men’s Hockey Competition


Australia demolished Pakistan by 7 goals to nil thus putting an end to the hopes and aspirations of Pakistan hockey fans and fraternity. Australia have now qualified for the semi final while Pakistan will have to content for the the 5th and 6th position play offs. It was estimated that in a do or die game like this, Pakistan would go all out on attack right from the beginning and not worry too much on defence, but surprisingly the Team Management decision not to field three main strikers Rehan Butt, Haseem Khan and Shakeel Abbasi in the first 15 minutes of the game proved to be fatal. The game plan to start defensively in this decisive game caused irreparable damage to Pakistan as it could not withstand the Australian charges and conceded 2 goals in the first 10 minutes of the match. This 2 goal margin was doubled in the same half, a margin that had immense psychological impact on the boys. The second half saw three more Australian goals, sinking Pakistani hearts even deeper.

The management should have realised what a demoralising effect a high margin lead in the first half would have on the boys. When a team is a goal down, then its efforts should be to reduce the margin immediately and not go on the defensive, and allow the opposition further attacks. An equaliser expiates the demoralising effect on the team and brings hope back into the game. But against this, Pakistan team management decided to play defensive even though two goals had been scored against them making the team sitting ducks to the Australian hawks. The management realised the mistake in the later period of the first half and fielded Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi, but at a time when we were losing with a big margin. Star forward Haseem, however was nowhere to be seen on the pitch, except in the middle of the second half. Captain Sohail Abbas too was kept on and off the pitch resulting in an inconsistent defensive pattern. Why in a crucial match like this, Pakistan started without their three main attackers, and why the captain who is the leader and inspiration to the team was kept off the pitch? Answers to these vital questions can only come from the team manager and coach. The management also decided to play zonal defense instead of man-to-man marking and this was also instrumental in giving an edge to the fast paced Australian attack, as they would frequently change positions with each other and not have anyone to mark them. It appeared that the entire match was an Australia versus Goalkeeper Imran Shah affair who was kept busy between the posts and along with conceding 7 goals, also managed to save quite a few attempts. Shah, who was also hurt during the first half had his own limitations and one must not put the blame on one person. He is a young keeper with a lot of talent, and had a lot on his shoulders in this Olympics.

With this defeat, Pakistan are out of the medal race, however there are still games that need to be played and the team should retain its composure for the play offs. Pakistan did not come into the tournament as favourites, and the result is not beyond expectations. Now we must salvage what remains and at least try to win the remaining play off games and improve our world rankings.

If there is someone to carry ultimate responsibility for Pakistan’s overall performance in this tournament as well as in world hockey over the years, then it is those running the Pakistan Hockey Federation, and after this tournament the Federation set up definitely needs a overhall. It is expedient that after the Olympics, the Pakistan Hockey structure as well as the national governing body and its subsidiary associations are reformed to regain our lost glory.

Senior players Sohail Abbas, Waseem Ahmed, Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi will definitely need to call it a day after their lengthy careers. In Forwards Haseem Khan, Shafqat Rasool, and Rizwan Bhutta we have a talented lot. Midfielder Rasheed Mahmood, and defender Muhammad Irfan have shown extraordinary skill in this tournament. Goalkeeper Imran Shah needs some coaching, but he has the spark and reflexes to make into a world class keeper. The residue of the Olympics squad does show promise for the future, but we need a good administrative structure of hockey in the country to develop the sport at domestic and international level. The coach and team manager who takes up after the Olympics needs to be an indigenous one instead of an imported option. He should be retained for a period long enough to produce concrete results.

Team GB Defeat Pakistan 4-1


What Caused Pakistan to lose 4-1 To Great Britain in London 2012 Olympics Hockey?

Great Britain consolidated their position at the London 2012 men’s hockey competition with a 4-1 victory over Pakistan in front a cheering home crowd at the River bank Arena. Two goals from James Tindall and Jonty Clarke in the first half and two more by Ashley Jackson in the second half shattered Pakistan’s hopes for top honours in the pool. Pakistan’s consolation goal came in the dying moments of the game with a Sohail Abbas penalty corner conversion. This loss diminishes Pakistan’s chances for a semi final berth, who now need to win the remaining of their pool games against South Africa and World Champions Australia.

Britain certainly had an edge over Pakistan in this game as they had home ground advantage and are the hosts of the Olympic games. Team GB is quite an experienced side with six players in the squad – midfielders Rob Moore, Ben Hawes, Glen Kirkham and strikers James Tindall, Jonty Clarke and Barry Middleton having more than 200 caps each, while Pakistan have a number of youngsters in the team from the junior side. GB players have a good understanding with each other as they have been playing together since a number of years, but Pakistani players have been in and out of the squad over the years. Even the captain, Sohail Abbas did not know whether he would get a place in the final Olympics squad or be the captain. In Jason Lee, GB have a team manager who has been on the job for more than five years, unlike Pakistan who had fired Dutch coach Van Den Heuvel four months before the Olympics.

Team GB’s passing was precise, with players knowing what to do immediately when in possession. It seemed their set pieces were well versed for the game. Against this, Pakistani forwards had to wonder what to do next when they had the ball.

Pakistani team management’s decision to lay more emphasis on defensive play has been the main cause of their unsatisfactory performance in this tournament. A point also shared by a number of former Olympians. Hasan Sardar, speaking to a private TV channel diagonosed the team’s short comings as lack of short passes and combined moves, which have been the hall mark of Pakistan hockey in the past, while Olympian Shahnaz Shaikh retorted on PTV Sports that by playing with only three strikers we set ourselves a formidable challenge to penetrate the crowded defence of Great Britain.

It is the third pool game and we are witnessing the same trend. The Pakistani forward line is playing without combination to gain territory and penetrate opposition defences and their tactics are mostly individual runs and and one on one attempts to dribble past defenders. If this trend continues, then there is not much hope left for the green-shirts. It is not the players who are to blame for any loss, but the team management at whose behest the team adopts a formation and attempts to put it into action. Indeed, on trial in this tournament is not just the Pakistan hockey team but also the people responsible for its selection and coaching.

 

 

A Glimmer of Hope for Pakistan, as they Down Argentina 2-0 in London 2012 Olympics Hockey


By Kashif Shahzada

Defying the pundits once again, Pakistan defeated Argentina by two goals to none in their second pool match of the 2012 London Olympics Men’s Hockey competition. In a hotly contested affair, both teams played fast attacking hockey and made frequent inroads into each other’s defences. Pakistan drew first blood in the 30th minute when defender Muhammad Imran scored from a direct penalty corner drag flick.

The second goal also came off a penalty corner strike when Captain Sohail Abbas’ powerful drag flick found the left post in the 44th minute of the second half. Though Pakistani forwards displayed occasional cohesion and short passes, overall they featured at an individual level, making fast runs whenever finding spaces and attempting to pierce the Argentinian defence with individual stick work. During the game forwards missed quite a few scoring chances, and it were the penalty corner strikers who saved the day.

Tough Times Ahead

Whether this strategy of individual play by the Pakistani forward line will prove to be effective against packed defences of stronger sides like Great Britain and Australia remains to be seen, and perhaps the need is for team manager Akhtar Rasool and coach Khawaja Junaid to revise this trend and add mid field support to the forward line, so that attackers are not left to their own devices to penetrate the defence but move in trios.

Change in Penalty Corner Tactics

This game also saw a variation in Pakistan’s penalty corner routine with Muhammad Imran taking the first strike instead of Sohail Abbas.

Overall, the green shirts played well and were a treat to watch. It must be said that it is the Pakistani defenders to whom much of the credit goes for keeping the Argentinian attackers at bay and often saving in the last moments. Full back Muhammad Irfan and half back Rasheed Mahmood proved to be a strong barricade for the Argentinian forward line. Goalkeeper Imran Shah was particularly in form under the bar, magnificently saving two Argentina penalty corner strikes, and foiling numerous field goal attempts, however there were a few very serious fumbles by the defence line, to which stronger sides will not show any mercy.

The Game Has entered a Crucial Stage

With this win, Pakistan now have four points from two games and as Great Britain’s match against South Africa earlier in the day resulted in a draw, there is a glimmer of hope for Pakistan to make it to the semi final stages. But Great Britain who have home advantage and World Champions Australia will prove to be strong adversaries. Republic of South Africa, though lowly rated in world rankings should not be taken lightly as well. It is vital that our team management reviews videos of their opponents in the tournament and chalks out a workable game plan for these important encounters. More manpower is needed in attack.

Match Reports on Pakistan Games held at London 2012 Olympics Men’s Hockey


2012 London Olympics are under way. Insha Allah, I will be writing match reports for Pakistan Hockey team’s encounters as I view them live on PTV Sports. It is also Ramadan, so its a bit hectic. But I shall do my best to submit the reports in good time.

Here I would like to add that this Olympics has a special significance for me, as the guy leading Pakistan Hockey is my old team mate and school buddy Sohail Abbas. Who also happens to be the current world record holder for highest number of goals in hockey. 345 to be exact. The team is lowly rated, but the pace with which the game is played nowadays we never know as upsets can and do occur.

Hockey fans, and specially fans of Pakistan hockey get ready and bookmark this website.

Pakistan Hockey Goes Dutch


CULTURAL CHALLENGES OF COACHING HOCKEY OVERSEAS

Pakistan hockey is in a bit of a coaching quandary at the moment. It all happened when the green shirts finished last at the 2010 hockey world cup in Delhi. To save face, the entire team and management resigned after holding a meeting at their hotel, immediately after the historic defeat. Never before had Pakistan – yes Pakistan, the country that gave the world cup to the world, that had won it a record four times – finished last. Not in their pool, but in the entire tournament. What a shame, indeed it was, and remains till date.  

But this wasn’t Pakistan’s unique historic debacle. Just some time back from Delhi, they had lost to minnows like China, and Japan, teams that a few years back they used to walk over with tennis scores.  This historic defeat has now prompted Pakistan hockey bosses to hire a Dutch Coach, Michel Van Den Heuvel with the target to regain lost glory at the 2012 Olympics in London. Will the new coach deliver? There is no doubt about his ability, but he will certainly face numerous challenges while on assignment in Pakistan.  

From Amsterdam to Gojra  

This isn’t the first time that Pakistan hockey is going Dutch. In fact, whenever a foreign coach is borrowed by Pakistan, it has always been from the orange shirts. It all started in 1990 when we finished second at the seventh world cup in Lahore. In the Lahore final, Pakistan lost 3-1 to the Netherlands, who had the services of Floris Jan Bovelander, the world’s leading penalty corner specialist of the time; someone who scored at a rate of 99.99% on all short corners, making him his opponent’s nightmare. The coach of the Dutch squad at that time was Hans Jorritsma, and Bovelander was his main weapon, and one which he used potently. In the 3-1 victory against Pakistan at Lahore 1990, two out of the three Dutch goals were scored on penalty corners. I was there at the stadium in Lahore. I remember it full well when the Lahori crowds went silent as Bovelander smacked in his direct shots with considerable ease above the Pakistani goalie’s pads.  

Realizing the Dutch supremacy at short corners, the thinking in Pakistan became that Dutch coaches specializing in the department should be sought to develop indigenous talent, and as a result Pakistan hired Hans Jorritsma for themselves in 1994, to train their defenders to become short corner specialists, just like he had done with Bovelander. This was his main role. He was hired as a penalty corner coach for the 1994 world cup in Sydney, to work alongside Manager Rashid Jr. and coach Saeed Khan. Pakistan lifted that event, and emerged as world champions, ironically beating the same Netherlands in the final, that Jorritsma had coached to victory in the previous world cup.   

Jorritsma was an important part of the Pakistani contingent at Sydney, but his role was restricted to train the team on a specific area, namely short corners and defence, and he was not in charge of the entire squad, nor the principle planner. All of this was in the hands of the team manager Rashid Jr. During the 1994 world cup it was also interesting to note, that Pakistan won most of their matches on the basis of field goals, playing fast attacking hockey that was their quintessential style, and not penalty corners.  

Pakistani Internationals Appearing in Dutch Leagues  

In those days, another trend was developing in Pakistan: that being of Pakistani internationals being invited to play league hockey in Europe. Most went to the Netherlands. Players like Shahbaz Ahmed became regulars at Dutch league games and were being offered lucrative contracts and privileges by Dutch clubs. They also made contacts with Dutch coaches and forged these relationships as they returned back home.  

This marked the introduction of the Dutch influence on Pakistan hockey. A hockey giant like Pakistan, that had its own distinctive style, and domestic structure, had its international players now looking up to the Dutch. This meant that when local Pakistani coaches did not deliver, senior players who had links with European clubs voiced their concerns and demanded foreign coaches.  I believe the main drive for hiring Dutch coaches is not from the traditional Pakistan Hockey Federation heirarchy and the hockey fraternity in the country but from Pakistani internationals of the 1990’s period who have received an exposure to Dutch hockey while playing in their leagues. It is they who are vocal and who look up to their foreign club mates. 

After Jorritsma, Pakistan sought the services of another Dutch Coach, Reolant Oltmans, to bring back lost glory at the Sydney Olympics in 2004. A thorough gentleman, Oltmans was given charge of the entire team, and was responsible in all areas, from selection to game plans. Unfortunately, during his tenure, Pakistan failed to emerge victorious in any major hockey event, and he left the team without bringing any medals.  

After Oltmans another Dutch trainer, Wouter Tazelaar was hired by the Pakistan Hockey Federation to develop junior academies. But interestingly, although his remit was indigenous talent grooming, Tazelaar also ended up on the 2010 world cup bench as assistant coach! Following the debacle, his original assignment also came to an end. What value such short term stints bring to the sport over here, is nobody’s guess.    

Now having all these stints with foreign coaches, Pakistan hockey has once again been handed over to another Dutchman, Michel Van Den Heuvel. This is the man who was responsible for bringing the Dutch side on to the victory stand (a bronze) at  Delhi, and is considered a successful Dutch coach, just like Oltmans and Jorritsma – all producing laurels for their country. No doubt, that these coaches have done remarkably well and delivered results, but that was for their own country, and never for Pakistan. Why is it that a coach, who takes his home team to the top, doesn’t click, when hired by Pakistan? This is so because of the formidable challenges that foreign coaches face while on assignment in Pakistan. 

Communication   

There are numerous challenges that a Dutch coach is likely to face when working in an environment  that is entirely foreign to his home culture, and in order to deliver, he should be aware of the manner by which to negotiate and meet these challenges. Communication will certainly be an issue. Coaching is all about communication. A good coach is not one who merely has knowledge and technical aspects of his job, but he should also be able to transfer that knowledge to his audience and in return ensure that the message got across to them. How a Dutchman, not well versed in Punjabi or Urdu, which is what men under his command speak, will communicate his ideas and methods? Will he have an interpreter? If yes, then the job becomes even more difficult for the men, as the lessons have the propensity of getting lost in translation.  

Local Culture  

Culture plays a very important part in every aspect of organizational life. Culture consists of many things. From beliefs, diet, habits, customs, clothing, to modesty, celebrations, perceptions and even thought processes. A trainer coming from a westernized environment will likely encounter a culture very different from his own. People in Pakistan, do not believe, behave, or celebrate in the same manner as in the west. In fact much of western styles are readily dismissed and may even be seen as decadent by local standards. The coach will have to exercise caution and be sensitive to local cultural norms.  

Disciplinary Procedures  

Another challenge is the manner of discipline and control exercised over the men. In western environments, less emphasis is laid on physical disciplinary procedures, as the learners are more independent and individualistic. In contrast, Pakistani officials are known to be heavy handed to maintain discipline on tours, as they often have to deal with unruly boys from rural backgrounds. Will the casual and relaxed approach of the Dutch be seen as  too easy and relaxed to our environment? Oltmans had discovered this firsthand, as he had to axe centre half Saqlain for the 2004 Olympics squad due to his uncontrollable temper. Another member of the same contingent managed to slip an important match by pretending to have hurt his foot, but was later caught by Oltmans while secretly playing football with his mates!   

Sudden Variation in Style of Play / Formation  

The style of play adopted in Pakistan is quite different from the Netherlands. Over here, since a very young age, players are groomed in the traditional 5-3-2-1 attacking style of play, with an emphasis on body dodges, stick work and short passes. In contrast the Dutch (and European) style of 3-3-3-1-1, which involves a sweeper as the last line of defence and depends on just three strikers against the 5 of the Asian style, is something new and seldom adopted by Pakistan. How will the Pakistanis, who are natural to playing fast attacking hockey with artistry and stick work suddenly transform to the European style is certainly a matter to consider for the Dutch coach.  

Differences in Domestic League Structure  

It should also be borne in mind that the Netherlands and Pakistan have two very different domestic hockey structures. The former has a very well developed club system, and league, while the latter has almost negligible club hockey and players at elite level are instead trained in camps of lengthy durations. Will the Dutch coach expect from the Pakistanis to learn and absorb his coaching in the same short periods of camp formation that he is used to in his homeland, or will he accommodate the energy sapping longer camps?  

Tenure of Coaching   

We should address the issue of the length of time for which the coach will be attached with the squad. Are results expected in a short duration? And in team building terms a year or two is certainly short. If a coach is hired for two years, with the Olympic games as the epitome of the coaching period, then is this time enough to produce results? After all, we have seen that elite level teams usually retain coaches for at least four to five years before they produce results. How is it that a maximum of twenty four months become sufficient time to deliver?  

Local Officials Meddling in Coaching Affairs  

I believe that the biggest challenge or rather the biggest hurdle, that a foreign coach will face while in Pakistan, will not come from the domestic circuit, local culture, or communication problems or the boys themselves. The greatest challenge will most certainly be from the officials who hired him!  If the coach thinks that he will have his way all along, then he is in for a surprise and doesn’t know what or who he is likely to encounter in the Islamic Republic.  

He will discover that this assignment is not smooth sailing as he won’t be whole and sole in-charge of team affairs or be given a free hand in selection matters. He will observe that local politics will have to be reconciled and that often, merit is not the sole criterion when it comes to selecting the national squad. He will certainly have to address frequent meddling and interference by inept officials who will be telling him how to do his job, instead of allowing him a free hand.  

The Challenge of Selection Committee   

The selection committee will certainly hang over the coach’s head as the sword of Damocles. Unlike Europe, where during league games, performance of talented players is observed and on its basis they are considered for the national squad, Pakistani players are called into a camp first, are exhausted during training and finally evaluated for selection by a committee comprising former internationals and officials.  

Instead of the coach, who is attached with the trainees all along and who knows the pros and cons of every player, it is this selection committee which will pick the players that they see perform on the day of trials (and perhaps some of their prior favorites). The trend of having selection committees is outdated as it ignores the overall performance of a player as it has been in the domestic circuit, and sees him only on one or two days, i.e. the day of trials. If a fantastic player is off colour on the day of trials, then the committee is blind to that, as it is just there to select who is in front of them on the day, and they are not bothered to see what his past performance has been. The coach will then be handed over the task of training the chosen one’s by the selection committee.  

How far the Dutch coach can deliver when his hands are tied to his back in this manner? We never know and only time will tell.  But he is sure to be welcomed by the Pakistanis and will find them to be hospitable and warm, irrespective of the outcome of the assignment.