Yesterday, once more

01 Jun 2014


Happy times: The winning combination of 1982
Happy times: The winning combination of 1982

The best ever team or the finest performance by a team is often a favourite topic among the lovers as well as the historians of a sporting discipline.

In modern times, the shows of the Brazilian soccer side in the 1970 World Cup, the American dream team of basketball in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, and the Australian cricket team of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups are often referred to as the finest in the respective sports. Talking of hockey, the greatest display in a World Cup came through a nation which is absent in this year’s edition; having failed to qualify for the first time. Let’s go back to Pakistan’s most exciting campaign at the 1982 World Cup.

Pakistan had been on a winning spree from the 1978 World Cup till early 1981. On the eve of the third Champions Trophy in January 1981, the greatest pair of full backs in Pakistan’s history, Manzoor ul Hasan and Munawwar uz Zaman (who was the captain as well), were shown the door.

The world champions got a real jolt in the third Champions Trophy, failing to win their first ever tournament since the 1976 Olympics. The slope was quite slippery as they couldn’t even mount the podium, ending up fourth.

It is no less than a national tragedy that Pakistan, the record four time winner of the hockey World Cup, is not present at the 2014 edition. Let's go back to enjoy one victorious moment from our hockey history

Good sense prevailed and the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) hierarchy admitted its folly of omitting both the fortresses of deep defence simultaneously by recalling right fullback Manzoor ul Hasan. Former skipper Munir Dar was appointed the manager for a minor tournament in Singapore and a tour of Europe. Result-wise, the European tour couldn’t be termed as successful as Pakistan failed to win either of the two four-nation tourneys in Germany and Holland. The only success came in a low profile tournament in Poland. From the preparatory point of view, nine forwards were given the opportunity to display their potential.

After the tour, the manager Munir Dar was replaced by that shrewdest of hockey brains, Brigadier (retd) Manzoor Hussain Atif, who was also PHF’s sitting secretary general. Atif took up the task in earnest. Keeping in view the humid conditions of the World Cup’s venue — Mumbai — the coastal city of Karachi was chosen for the training camp.

As before the last World Cup in 1978, a home and away four Test series against India was arranged. The series went to the wire and Pakistan won the last Test to emerge victorious by two matches to one, with one game drawn. Hence, by the time the team arrived in Mumbai in the last days of 1981, they had evolved into a great combination. Pakistan trounced Argentina 6-1 in their opener and in the next game, the Spanish Armada was sunk with two goals in each half, 4-1 being the final score line before demolishing New Zealand, the surprise gold medallists of the 1976 Olympics, 12-3.

Pakistan had their first real test against the erstwhile West Germany. The mean and keen German side stretched Pakistan thin. It was only when Samiullah scored in the 68th minute (to make it 5-3) that Pakistan heaved a sigh of relief. Though Pakistan remained a superior side throughout, their one weak link came to the fore — goalkeeping on the penalty corners.

With their topping the pool guaranteed, Pakistan played all the reserves against Poland in the last pool game and emerged 4-1 winners. Having put on such an impressive show, easily overriding every opponent, Pakistan had become everyone’s favourite.

But Pakistan’s manager Atif was a worried man having seen goalie Moinuddin badly beaten on penalty corners against Germany, he was fearful of Holland’s penalty corner king Paul Litjens, the highest scorer in a single World Cup as well as the overall top-scorer in World Cup history.

His other net minder was the 17-year-old Shahid Ali Khan, who prior to appearing in the last pool match had an international experience of less than one match — Pakistan’s 11-1 victory against Zimbabwe in a Test, a few months back.

However, Atif had been impressed by Shahid’s performance against Holland and Litjens in a side match, which the Dutch played on their tour to Pakistan just before the World Cup. So to the surprise of almost everyone, Shahid was put against Holland in the semi-final.

And the teenager justified his presence by letting only one goal off half a dozen penalty corners. But the moment that is still etched in everyone’s memory, who saw it, is Shahid’s acrobatic save off a penalty stroke taken by Kruise — who was playing the fifth of his record six World Cups — early in the sixth minute.

This single act of heroism by one of the youngest players in that World Cup, in front of a 40,000 crowd, spurred the whole Pakistan team and there was no looking back. Waves after waves of Pakistani attacks ensued, mostly orchestrated by the left-in Hanif, and the Dutch were very lucky in the end to lose only by 2-4.

Pakistan’s vintage attacking display had now made everyone agree, pundits and ordinary fans alike, that the World Cup was flying back to Pakistan and the final was a mere formality. Yet, the Pakistani contingent was in for a shock. A person no less than the president of the FIH, Rene Frank, remarked that the traditional subcontinental style based on five forwards had become out-dated.

Pakistan gave a nice reply to Rene Frank in the field in the final and in no uncertain terms. With India not making the knockout phase, the local crowds had become great supporters of Pakistan seeing them as the torch bearers of the subcontinental style of play and the majority of the 40,000 plus crowd in the final was backing Pakistan. The simplest way to summarise the final: one-way traffic.

Pakistan retained possession for almost the entire time. Still, it was Germany who went ahead as early as the sixth minute through a goal by Dopp resulting from a misunderstanding between full back Manzoor ul Hasan and goalkeeper Shahid. Thereafter, Pakistan put up relentless aggression.

It was only a matter of time before Hasan Sardar tapped in the equaliser from a corner in the 25th minute. Hardly a minute passed when Manzoor Jr, in a flash of genius, scored the finest goal of the knockout rounds. Receiving the ball near the half line, the legendary right-in weaved patterns around the German defence and from the right side of the circle his powerful shot found the smallest of the angles past the German goalkeeper.

There was no respite for the Germans even after the change of sides. A Hanif effort was stopped with a foot and Kalimullah capitalised on the resulting penalty stroke. Pakistan was awarded another penalty stroke and as Kalimullah was walking up to the spot, something unbelievable happened. Succumbing to sustained pressure by the protesting Germans, the French umpire Reanud reversed the decision. However, captain Akhtar Rasool accepted the decision very sportingly. The final score line of 3-1 did scant justice to the absolute domination of the Pakistanis in the most one-sided final in the history of World Cup hockey.

Ironically, two stars of the 1982 World Cup team are the main culprits. The Pakistan team failed to qualify this time after finishing seventh in the World Hockey League (semi-final round) and then ending third at the Asia Cup (2013). Akhtar Rasool, the captain of the 1982 World Cup side, was the manager-cum-head coach of the side. And Qasim Zia was the president of the PHF. The duo’s abject failure endorses the widely held belief that great players don’t necessarily make good managers/coaches or administrators.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 1st, 2014