Almost immediately after publicly slamming the door on the ‘aged seniors’, the National Head Coach allowed two of them to sneak in. The Pakistan Hockey Federation surely doesn’t mind its coach having second thoughts that are so ‘second’ that to an outsider they seem like a blatant U-turn.

As it happened, the door was bolted before Sohail Abbas, Rehan Butt and Salman Akbar could make it, but was kept open just long enough for Waseem Ahmed and Shakeel Abbasi to make their way in. Or perhaps they used the proverbial back door.

Ironically, Waseem was the only one who had called it a day after the recent Olympics, while the others thought they still had it in them to play on. And yet, the Head Coach, in his own words, “personally spoke to Waseem and asked him to withdraw his decision to retire”.

While Salman had been dropped even before the Olympics, the coach found the performance of Rehan and Sohail not up to the mark, but was willing to make a compromise in the case of Shakeel, who, according to him, has the “ability to play better in patches”. It is hard to find a player across the land who cannot lay claim to the same attribute.

Come to think of it, playing well in patches is something that would irritate many a coach in the world who prefers to have consistency over flashes of brilliance. And, indeed, there is a reason for doing so. A coach can plan a strategy on the basis of a player’s net capacity, but not on the stroke of brilliance of which nobody is sure — not even the player himself. The variable is something that coaches love to hate, but, by the looks of it, not the PHF coach.

Indeed there are players — a limited bunch in any sport — who thrive on this very basis. In cricket, for instance, there are bowlers who bowl wonderfully, but there is the other guy who happens to be the wicket-taker without having the ability to bowl consistently well. In hockey, likewise, there are opportunist goal-scorers who would do precious little in the field, but would always have their stick diverting stray balls towards the cage. Shakeel doesn’t fit the bill by any stretch of the imagination.

If the absolute power now vested in the Head Coach by the PHF can be used so selectively in these early days of the system, it is not hard to envisage what might be in store once things settle down.

In its infinite wisdom, the sitting PHF management has done away with the selection committee, which means the Head Coach will now pick the probables, select the squad, finalise the strategy and have it executed through his hand-picked wards. It is like making him the Judge, the Jury, the Prosecution, the Defence and everything else. It is quite visible that he is loving it.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, goes the adage. And one can see it in practice at the PHF headquarters which is governed by whims and fancy of individuals rather than vision and strategy.

The decision to send the selection committee packing in itself is an indicator of the low understanding of the ground reality within the PHF. If you have problems taking it as a case of ‘low understanding’, nothing bars you from taking it as a case of vested interest. The PHF wanted to be seen as doing something after the debacle at the Olympics and this is what it has done.

Practically, it has ensured that the man who will pick the squad will have no knowledge of the exact potential of any player in the country other than the 20-25 players that he would be dealing with in official camps and squads.

Countries where the coach is given such unbridled powers are the ones where systems exist to tap the resources at the grassroots level. There are talent scouts, there is worthy and consistent activity at tiers below the national level, and there are always more than a few players knocking hard at the doors. In a way, the talent reaches the coach in case the latter is too busy to go down to the former.

In our environment where talent-hunting, at best, exists in its most rudimentary form and remains clouded with whim and fancy at every tier of its existence, it is nothing but a step towards killing the game. Instead of broadening the scope of activity, power now stands confined to even fewer hands than was the case earlier.

In the last two Olympics, we have finished eighth and seventh respectively. The intervening four years were managed by the same bunch of people in the name of London 2012 being the ultimate target. Everything having fallen flat on its face, we have the same management with a new mantra. Will the result be any different? Some may prefer to live in denial, but the rest of us do know the answer, don’t we?

humair.ishtiaq@gmail.com

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