Sohail Abbas in line for captaincy

KARACHI: Less than six weeks after failing to inspire Pakistan in what turned out to be a catastrophic World Cup campaign, the country’s drag flick ace Sohail Abbas has emerged

Sohail Abbas has emerged as one of the favourites to take over as the national team’s captain for next month’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cu

as one of the favourites to take over as the national team’s captain for next month’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

But Sohail will have to clear what could be a big hurdle as he needs to convince national selectors that he is still an asset for Pakistan and should be retained in the team when it is announced after one-day trials here at the Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium on April 28.

With Zeeshan Ashraf — the experienced defender who led Pakistan to a humiliating last-place finish in last month’s World Cup in New Delhi opting out of the Azlan Shah Cup, the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) will have to name a new captain in a week’s time.

Ashraf has informed the PHF that he needed rest and wants to be excused from national duty for the Azlan Shah Cup to be played in Ipoh (Malaysia) from May 6-16. Influential midfielder Wasim Ahmed and striker Akhtar Ali are the other two players who want to skip the Ipoh assignment due to exhaustion.

PHF secretary Asif Bajwa told ‘The News’ that he is yet to receive the players’ request in writing, adding that PHF president decision will take a decision on it only after he gets it in black and white.

It is unlikely that the PHF, which is looking forward to blooding youngsters in the national team, will force the senior trio to take part in the Azlan Shah Cup. Which is why, Pakistan will not only need to find three good replacements but will also have to appoint a suitable captain.

Bajwa refrained from commenting on the possible captaincy candidates but said that the PHF will make a call on it after getting sufficient inputs from national selectors and team officials.

“It’s up to the PHF to name the captain but we would consider the input from the selectors and coaches before deciding who will be leading the team in Malaysia,” said Bajwa, a former Olympian who was sacked as team manager after the World Cup debacle.

But Bajwa was quick to add that the PHF will respect seniority while naming the new captain. “We will keep the seniority of players in mind as far as a decision on a new captain is concerned,” he said.

Seniority-wise, Sohail appears to be the best candidate for captaincy. He has been around for a while and has the most international caps among the current lot of players. The fact that he also holds the world record for most international goals adds to his reputation as the best known Pakistani hockey player these days.

But the problem with Sohail is that there is a question mark over his international future after a below-par showing in the World Cup.

Sohail was supposed to spearhead Pakistan’s campaign in New Delhi but failed to live up to the expectations. However, he bounced back from the World Cup disappointment and played a pivotal role in WAPDA’s successful title campaign in the recently-concluded National Hockey Championship in Karachi.

According to sources, the other leading candidate to replace Zeeshan is his deputy Mohammad Imran. The experienced full-back is a former national junior team captain and will certainly be considered for captaincy when the PHF think-tank meets here next week.

Rehan Butt, a former captain, is also fancying his chances for the job but a well-placed source told this correspondent that the seasoned striker hasn’t been considered for captaincy so far. “May be they might consider him but so far nobody is talking about Rehan as captain,” said a source.

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