May the ‘4’ be with you!

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The Dutch threw everything they had at him but could not find a way past goalkeeper Mansoor Ahmad
The Dutch threw everything they had at him but could not find a way past goalkeeper Mansoor Ahmad

The story of ’92 Cricket World Cup is engraved onto the hearts of every cricket-lover and almost every Pakistani.

The highlights, clips and footages, the ‘cornered tigers’ phrase and T-shirt, the two in-swinging deliveries, the final delivery and catch, bamboozling semi-final heroics — each and every aspect of the ’92 World cup has been lovingly pored over.

Fittingly, even today we still want our team to repeat the heroics and emulate and achieve what Imran’s men were able to do back then.


The year 1994 was one of the most remarkable in terms of Pakistani sports, because this is when Pakistan reigned supreme not only in cricket but also in hockey, squash and snooker


Pakistan was to remain champion of the cricketing world till the next World Cup in 1996. The year 1994 was, thus, the year when on the global stage Pakistan was in middle of its prime phase of cricket.

So while the 1992 win was a big deal, there were other sports, such as squash and hockey, in which Pakistan racked up several victories which went largely unremarked at the time. The reason? Because we were so used to winning in these sports that it wasn’t considered anything exceptional!

Wasim Akram blows the wind out of the English sails en route to a man-of-the-match performance
Wasim Akram blows the wind out of the English sails en route to a man-of-the-match performance

Yes, you are reading it right. Pakistan was so used to winning the titles and featuring on the medal podium that it would be losing a match that would raise an eyebrow or would make a headline for the following days’ newspapers.


While the 1992 win was a big deal, there were other sports, such as squash and hockey, in which Pakistan racked up several victories which went largely unremarked at the time. The reason? Because we were so used to winning in these sports that it wasn’t considered anything exceptional!


Hockey

Shahbaz Ahmed with the World Cup after beating Netherlands in1994
Shahbaz Ahmed with the World Cup after beating Netherlands in1994

After decades of dominance, Pakistani hockey started showing signs of a possible downfall on the field when in the 1988 Seoul Olympics they failed to proceed from the round stage. However, Pakistan ended up getting a bronze in the subsequent Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and by the time 1994 rolled along, they were very much on the upswing once again.

Pakistan dominated the hockey scene comprehensively, boasting it as their national game. Pakistan hockey was also very active administratively and coupled with good prevailing conditions, Pakistan was hosting major tournaments. Lahore hosted the 1994 Champions Trophy in the month of March, where Pakistan defeated the German team in a thriller on penalty strokes to lift the Champion’s Trophy.

This was not the end. In December of the same year, yet another thriller was witnessed by Hockey fans when Pakistan defeated Netherlands again on penalty strokes to lift the 1994 Hockey World Cup in Sydney, Australia. This was their fourth and the last title to date. The heroics of Mansoor Ahmed, the unbelievable left-in moves of Shahbaz Senior, dribbling past the helpless defenders and passing on to Kamran Ashraf to complete the goals were characteristic features of the team that was led by the ‘Maradonna of Hockey’ and was sadly the last team to win a Hockey World Cup for Pakistan.

I remember that myself and some friends from my neighbourhood were in the open sea on a big yacht belonging to our uncle’s friend when the final was in progress. Everyone was glued to a small black and white car television which was being run on the yacht’s engine as Mansoor Ahmed stopped the last flick of the Dutch stroke to win Pakistan the World Cup; there was a wave of unimaginable happiness and excitement all over the boat. The Makrani fishermen and helpers on-board started their traditional dancing. Back then, everyone at my street’s hockey team would envision himself as a Shahbaz Senior dribbling to pass or while scoring a goal, copying his gestures.

Squash

Jansher Khan extended Pakistan’s absolute dominance in squash after long-term adversary Jehangir Khan retired from the international arena
Jansher Khan extended Pakistan’s absolute dominance in squash after long-term adversary Jehangir Khan retired from the international arena

Throughout my childhood, I would get bored of hearing about a Pakistani, first Jahangir Khan in the late ’80s and later Jansher Khan in the ’90s, winning a British Open, World Open, Hong Kong Open or any other squash tournament at all.

Conspiracy theories that would prevail on streets included talk about a format being introduced that would ensure that at least one non-Pakistani player would feature in the Finals or that the Olympic committee is not letting squash in the Olympic Games because only Pakistani Khans are likely to win it. Pakistan would ace through all players and the real match would be the finals between the two Pakistanis; otherwise it would be the same story of a sweeping victory where a Khan would roll over the opponent, sometimes without even dropping a set!

1994 was no different; Jahangir Khan left the Squash scene and now Jansher was the only ruler of the game for some years to come. The year 1994 belonged to Jansher as well. Indeed, he won both the World Open and British Open consecutively from 1992 to 1996.

Snooker

Muhammad Yousuf’s victory inspired a generation of cueists to take up snooker
Muhammad Yousuf’s victory inspired a generation of cueists to take up snooker

The shocking result came in 1994 when Muhammad Yousuf of Pakistan defeated Johannesson of Iceland by 11 frames to 9, in IBSF World Snooker Championship held at Johannesburg. Being a consistently improving player, the skills of Muhammad Yousuf remained overshadowed for a long time, especially in a cricket crazy, squash dominating country whose national sports was field hockey!

Hailing from a humble background, Yousuf was a well known name in the snooker and billiards community. His heroics brought the game recognition among the local masses and paved the way for sponsorship deals. Many young, aspiring players followed suit and a number of Pakistani players made name for themselves since in the international arena.

More than two decades have passed and as in many other fields, sports in Pakistan, also suffered unbelievable deterioration. It is a rarity or by unexpected chance that we might see a once overwhelmingly dominant Pakistan to feature even in the final rounds of hockey or any of the squash tournaments.

With little emphasis on sports, corrupt management and an indifferent approach, very less is expected in terms of results perhaps even in the next couple of decades to follow. As I look back, I wonder whether I have already seen the prime of Pakistani sports in 1994 when we would rule the world in not one but four different sports!

kalishahid@hotmail.com

Twitter: @Ali_Shahid82

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 31st, 2015

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