The Champions Trophy is scheduled to commence on December 1 in Melbourne, Australia. But the Pakistan Hockey Federation’s decision to send its team for the event seems unwise given that no coach seems capable of moulding the present squad into winning combination at such a short notice.
The PHF wasted precious training time for the Melbourne battle after Pakistan’s highly disappointing performance at the London Olympics. The camp, which commences on October 31 (at the time of writing this article), should have begun in the last week of September, especially since the International Hockey Federation (FIH) had announced Pakistan’s inclusion in the event at the conclusion of London Olympics.
In all, 28 probables have been selected for the camp, and the team is expected to be announced after a week’s training. The squad may leave for Australia possibly in the last week of November. Given this scenario, the team may not be fully prepared for an event which requires extraordinary performance to overcome formidable challenges.
Pakistan’s performance in the 34-year-old history of the Champion Trophy has been quite patchy. So far Pakistan has won three gold medals and six each in silver and bronze medals. The last time we were on the victory stand as bronze medalists was at the 2004 Lahore Champions Trophy. Since then, we have been unable to make it to the top three, and thrice we have failed to qualify for the tournament.
The Melbourne Champions Trophy is an eight- team contest. The top two teams of the pool will enter the semifinal stage. Pakistan, currently ranked ninth in the world field hockey, is placed in Pool B which includes Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium. The London Olympics champions Germany is in Pool A with England, New Zealand and India.
It would be better for Pakistan to skip the Champions Trophy since no useful purpose would be served by sending an ill-prepared team. The pool in which Pakistan has been placed is also very tough and defeating Australia, whom we lost by 0-7 in London Olympics, as well as formidable Netherlands presently seems an uphill task. So the chances of qualifying for the semifinal look bleak.
The PHF may face strong criticism by former Olympians for skipping the Melbourne event, but it has to face it in case it decides to withdraw the team. Instead, it should explore the possibilities of playing a five-match away series against countries such as Germany, The Netherlands, Spain and England. Participation in the second Asian Champions Trophy, commencing in Doha, Qatar, from Dec 22, which is a regional event, would also provide a great opportunity to asses the potential of our players.