Salman Akbar is a veteran goal-keeper who made his debut for Pakistan in 2001. Termed by Olympian Shahid Ali Khan as one of the most hard-working players in the game, Akbar has won the 2005 Rabo Trophy and the 2010 Asian Games gold medal with Pakistan. He was adjudged the ‘best keeper’ in both events. Here, he talks about the new management of Pakistan hockey.
There was a time when cutouts of hockey players like Islahuddin and Samiullah were plastered all over the schoolbooks of children in Pakistan. Their battles were avidly followed by fans, young and old, who gathered around transistor sets to listen to the rip-roaring Radio Pakistan commentary.
That was Pakistan hockey’s golden era. The greying greats are now legends – immortalised with epithets like the ‘Flying horse’ (Samiullah) and ‘The man with the electric heels’ (Shahbaz Ahmed Sr). Thousands thronged the local stadiums and the country even hosted one World Cup and nearly a dozen Champions Trophy events, the last of which came in 2004.
The situation is completely different now. A local sports fan would do well to jot down the names of the current squad members. After winning World Cup in 1994, Pakistan Hockey has rewritten history for all the wrong reasons. The worst-ever positions in mega events like Olympics (2008), World Cup (2010), Champion’s Trophy (2006-2007-2011), Asian Games (2002) and Asia Cup (2007), are just some of the notable achievements of the Greenshirts in recent times.
I played under several federations and to be honest as a player I think the time when General Aziz (president) and Brigadier Musarat Ullah (secretary) were in charge things were really good and moving forward. There was discipline in the office and the results on the pitch, too, were far better than now. There weren’t too many critics of the regime but of course it wasn’t perfect.
The present Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has done some work which is appreciable, particularly in the wake of another failed campaign at the 2012 London Olympics. The decision to finally do away with the selection committee was much-needed, and bold considering how things work in this part of the world. The move to bring in Tahir Zaman as coaching consultant of the national squad is also positive.
The idea and role of a selection committee was something that I could never understand right from my first national training camp in 1998. I often wondered how these ‘big names of hockey’ just come to training one particular day, judge the performance of the players and announce the team for an event. This is how it worked whether it was to select a team for a big tournament or just an invitational event. I often heard from so many staff members I worked under that trials were just a formality and that ‘they had to fulfill’ it. In many instances the timings of the trials were set around the flight schedules of the selectors who arrived from different parts of the country. We used to be told that we had to warm up fast because ‘the selectors have to fly back to their respective cities.’ I never understood how in a few hours and little discussion with the team management they were ready with a list of selected players to present to the press.
All over the world the coaching staff has the full authority to select the team. No one knows the players better then the coach. It’s the coaching staff that works with the player and knows their temperament, their ups and downs and their qualities and weak points. The time that the coaching staff spends with his players is invaluable in the overall scheme of things and particularly when devising a formation for a game. The coaches are always responsible and answerable for the results. This also helps in the confidence and satisfaction of the man in charge while developing a wave of trust.
PHF’s decision to bring in Zaman as a coaching consultant, after both parties resolved their issues, should have been done a long time ago but as the saying goes “it’s never too late”. This shows that the PHF realises that the old way of handling the national game is no longer relevant. Zaman is FIH certified Grade One High Performance coach and he is fully equipped to impart modern techniques after having worked with several teams. To add to this, he is a thorough professional. If every one works together under Zaman and the coaching staff do not misuse their selection powers, things can really look up. But the fans will have to be very patient because results will not come in a month. These developments will bear fruit after a minimum of four to five years.
When I read the list of players for the Champions Trophy I was really surprised to see Sohail Abbas’ name missing from it. This is exactly the kind of issue I have been raising a hue and cry about. “The snub is surprising as they asked me of my availability,” Abbas said in a statement recently. This is not how you treat a player of his stature. He is a legend and still one of the best in the world. I haven’t seen such a professional player and, frankly, I don’t see a replacement for him in the penalty corner department of the Pakistan team.
If Abbas’ omission is based on the performance at the London Games, then there are few more names that should not be in the squad, especially the man under the bars defending the Pakistani goal. Mazhar Abbas from the juniors should be in the list of probables. Although he is going to play in Malaysia for the junior side he can join the camp upon his return. His inclusion will help all the keepers in the camp as they will get some real competition.
Waseem Ahmed who retired straight after the last match in London has also been recalled and for sure his appearance will help the team.
The sincere hope here is that Zaman and the new coaching staff achieve the impossible and redeem themselves in Australia.