KARACHI: Pakistan’s hockey chiefs will sit down in Lahore soon after the World Cup to take a decision over the future of their misfiring senior players.
Well-placed sources in the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) told ‘The News’ on Monday that the national hockey think-tank will meet at the PHF headquarters next week to take a long, hard look at the reasons behind their team’s poor showing in the World Cup which is under progress in New Delhi.
Though the PHF chiefs will be deliberating on various issues, the focus is likely to be on the burning question: To retain or not to retain the team’s senior players for Pakistan’s next big hockey assignment — the Asian Games.
Pakistan flopped miserably in the Hockey World Cup as they began with a shock 1-4 defeat against hosts India and then went on to lose against England and minnows South Africa to fall out of contention for the semifinals. They lost their last Pool B game against Australia 2-1 and finished the league stage with just one win — against Spain — from five matches.
While their poor performance ignited scathing criticism from all quarters, the boys who came under the most intense fire were the team’s senior players — Sohail Abbas, captain Zeeshan Ashraf, midfielder Waseem Ahmed, striker Rehan Butt and goalie Salman Akber.
The five of them were supposed to shoulder Pakistan’s campaign in the 12-nation spectacle but failed to live up to expectations. Sohail, the world renowned drag-flicker, began the competition as the international hockey’s most prolific scorer. But he failed to make his presence felt in the competition.
Waseem, an influential midfielder, had to play the role of the team’s playmaker but he has been mostly out of touch. Waseem’s below-par showing is being seen by many as one of the major reasons behind Pakistan’s poor showing in New Delhi.
Skipper Zeeshan Ashraf also failed to come out with the sort of performance that was needed to beef up the brittle Pakistani defence while Rehan Butt was unable to find his golden form in big games like the one against India. Salman Akber has been largely unimpressive and has at times allowed opponents to score goals at will.
“The Pakistan hockey think-tank, which will meet in Lahore soon after the World Cup, will analyze the team’s performance during what is expected to be a marathon meeting,” said a source. “It will be focusing on the performance of the senior players, who’ve failed to do well in the World Cup. There are indications that some of them might be ignored for future assignments,” said a source.
“Whenever our team loses in a major international event, its management is almost always shown the door,” said another source. “But the players, who are equally responsible for the losses, are spared. They always come back and fail again. There are chances that this time the axe will fall on them,” added the source.
However, there could be disagreement on chopping off the senior players from the national team. It’s a pretty busy year for the national team which will be featuring in three international events before competing in the Asian Games in China in November.
Pakistan will take part in the Asian Champions Trophy in Ipoh in April before participating in the Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy also to be staged in the same Malaysian city early this summer. In October, Pakistan will feature in the Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi before the all-important Asian Games.
Some of the PHF officials and coaching staff are unsure over whether they would be able to raise a strong team for these events after axing all of the players who’ve failed to impress much in the World Cup.
“It is true that Pakistan didn’t play well in the World Cup,” said a PHF official who spoke to ‘The News’ on the condition of anonymity. “But the problem is that you can’t just destroy the team by kicking out all the experienced players because there isn’t enough bench strength,” he said.
“It will be wiser if the PHF took one step at a time and rebuild the team over a sufficient time frame instead of rushing things because that could prove to be counter productive,” he said. It remains to be seen whether the meeting, that will be chaired by PHF president Qasim Zia will vote in favour of sweeping changes in the national team for the Asian Games buildup or opt for the “one step at a time approach”.