Is it safe now to dream of glory for Pakistan in field hockey with the former captain and legendary centre forward Hasan Sardar in the position of head coach and manager?
Who can forget Sardar’s feat of scoring one goal after another in the field which helped Pakistan win the Hockey World Cup in 1982 and the Olympic gold in 1984. But can he translate those feats of glory to his role as a coach? This remains to be seen.
Sardar himself is quite positive about his new assignment even though critics point out that he has no previous coaching experience, even at the domestic level.
Assisting him in his coaching work will be former forward Rehan Butt and midfielder Mohammad Saqlain. “The boys are going to benefit from their presence as Rehan and Saqlain have played new hockey even if they may not have had a taste of success like we did in our day,” Sardar smiles. “They have also served with the junior team and the Pakistan Whites. They are younger with current knowledge of the game, too,” he adds.
Legendary hockey player Hasan Sardar has been appointed the new head coach/manager of the national side. Does he have a plan to turn Pak hockey’s fortunes around?
“For the building up of a strong team, I may also bring in extra hands in the form of a professional foreign coach,” he says.
“See,” he says, “Here coaching is taken rather casually. We volunteer our services if we have the time to do it. But there those people take it very seriously. For them it is a career.”
Taking examples of the players he played against during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics such as Ric Charlesworth and Jim Irvine, he says that they took up professional coaching after retiring from active sport.
“It is a well-paid respectable job. Charlesworth also coached their women’s hockey team,” he says.
Asked if he is thinking of bringing in someone from Australia then, Sardar shrugs and says that he has not made up his mind as yet but he has his eye on a few people there. “The thing is that our style of playing hockey is similar to the Australian way,” he points out. “They also have a good hockey base,” he says.
When asked if he has himself coached any team before, Sardar says that he has managed but not really coached a team before this. “The Pakistan Hockey Federation [PHF] made me coach-cum-manager though I see myself more in the role of manager,” he says. “Hockey has been my life so I have many ideas, that I will need Rehan, Saqlain, etc to implement,” he says. “I also feel I will be able to coach the forward line,” adds the former centre forward.
There is also no inspiration because there are no victories in hockey lately. The Pakistan hockey team doesn’t return home with the World Cup or the Olympics gold so everyone wants to play cricket where the country gets a chance to cheer and celebrate often as opposed to hockey,” he says.
He says that he had been playing hockey since he was a kid. “Back then there was so much competition in hockey that it would be extremely tough to even make it to the Under-18 team,” he says. “That kind of competition is not there anymore,” he says. “And since they don’t have to fight their way to come up, we have the players that we do,” he points out.
“In our day, even though then too there was no proper base, we used to have school hockey that took care of competition at the grassroots,” he says. “Then colleges had a sports quota. I learnt about this when I was a Matric student at the Habib Public School, which has the honour of producing many great hockey players for Pakistan,” he says. “Because of the college sports quota we knew that even if we passed with a second division, we would get into a good college if we were good players. And after college there was the university quota, too,” he says. “Kids today have no such competition or incentives,” he adds.
It all sounds like reminscences of glory days. But Sardar says this can still be remedied through the hockey academies. “But sadly they are all working independently. It would work better if they all came under the umbrella of the PHF,” he says. “Then all the training/coaching will also be uniform and not like it is now with someone teaching his kind of hockey in Gojra and another teaching his kind at another place,” he explains.
Another thing that Sardar rightly says is that since the national sport is no longer as popular as cricket where youngsters pay for coaching at academies such as the Rashid Latif Cricket Academy, the Moin Khan Cricket Academy or the Jalaluddin Cricket Academy. They would need some kind of an incentive to go to a hockey academy. Sardar says that it would be good to coach youngsters in hockey free of charge. As an added plus they can present them with free hockey kits, hockey sticks and shoes. “Such kind of expenses, even the kids’ school fees, can be taken care of by the PHF,” he says. “This way we can have a system in place from the grassroots level at least,” he says.
“The older players,” he says, “should be given jobs.” After the departments stopped being interested in taking on good players to make competitive teams, he says. This translated into a lack of interest from sportspersons as well. “There is only the Army, Navy, Railway, Wapda, etc., it is not enough,” he says.
“There is also no inspiration because there are no victories in hockey lately. The Pakistan hockey team doesn’t return home with the World Cup or the Olympics gold so everyone wants to play cricket where the country gets a chance to cheer and celebrate often as opposed to hockey,” he says.
“Along with the physical training and grooming, we have to work at making them mentally strong. We have to give them confidence that it can happen for them. They can win, too. They can be heroes, too. I can tell them about how it feels to be a winner, how people look up to you then,” says Sardar. Important as these aspects are, it seems many of Sardar’s plans and solutions to the problems of Pakistan hockey are vague.
About their first outing, Sardar says that it will be the forthcoming two-match series with the visiting World XI side. “They are exhibition matches for which I think I will take junior team boys because, having attended camps recently, they are more in practice,” he says. “But the visitors are also not to be taken lightly. They are a team of gold-medalist Olympians and World Cup winners. So we may also bring in a few seniors in our side.” He seems to be thinking aloud.
The national team’s upcoming assignments include the Commonwealth Games in April in Australia. Next up is the Champions Trophy in the latter half of June. The Asian Games take place in Jakarta in August and then in November-December there is the Hockey World Cup. “My first target is winning the Asian Games as that will make us qualify directly for the 2020 Olympics,” he says. “It is going to be a busy year and I am hoping to make the most of it. Before heading to Australia for the Commonwealth Games, I will also be looking for a series with an Asian team that can come here. It could he Korea, Japan or Malaysia,” he says.
“PHF Secretary Shahbaz Sr is working so hard to get the World XI here. After that he may be able to bring an Asian team here as well,” he concludes.
For a plan hinging on hopes, one can only wish Sardar well.
The writer is a member of staff
She tweets @HasanShazia
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 14th, 2018