‘The players who play well on grassy surfaces can play competitive hockey on Astroturf. Their game gets better automatically when they start playing on Astroturf; but they should have sufficient skill for it,’ says Samiullah.
Samiullah is one of the finest hockey players that Pakistan ever produced. Nicknamed “the flying horse” because of the break-neck speed at which he used to carry the ball towards the opponent’s goal, Samiullah played a pivotal role in winning the gold medal for Pakistan at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok, and bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
These days, he is one of the members of the national selection committee. Recently Mag4you.com caught up with Samiullah and had a discussion with him on the downfall of Pakistan hockey. Excerpts follow:
What were the reasons for Pakistan’s poor performance at the just concluded Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia?
The team’s performance was very poor, and keeping in mind the forthcoming Beijing Olympics, the situation is quite unsatisfactory. Both India and Malaysia tried out their junior teams in the competition, while Pakistan took its original senior outfit. What will happen to Pakistan in the juniors’ qualifying rounds in July is anybody’s guess.
At the Azlan Shah Cup, Pakistan’s centre-half was not supportive enough. The forward-line from the left side wasn’t tried out either. Then there is no skimmer in the team who, besides being the ball’s distributor, is also supposed to be good at wasting time, if need be, in the dying minutes. So those were the major shortcomings. Also, there wasn’t sufficient bench strength.
Who would you blame for these shortcomings?
Those officials who sit on the bench should be held responsible. I think five senior players, namely Zeshan Ashraf, Mohammad Saqlain, Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi and Salman Akbar are also to be blamed, because off the field they didn’t support the team.
Does it mean that that the aforementioned five players didn’t play as a team?
Yes, I observed so. To me, they are only good individual players.
Will you elaborate…
‘Passing the ball’ is the main thing in hockey. These players were seen concentrating on dodging. On Astroturf one shouldn’t attempt to dodge more than once. Collect the ball, dodge the opponent and quickly pass it on to your teammate — that’s how it should be. But these players weren’t doing that.
Why did you select them in the first place?
At this point in time, they are the best available players in the country, and as a selector I couldn’t do more than that.
Why didn’t you select Sohail Abbas?
Well, there’s always uncertainty regarding whether he wants to play for Pakistan or not or whether he’s as good today as he used to be. As far as I’m concerned, I think he is a good penalty-corner specialist, but not a good defender.
You could have relied on the younger lot.
The young talent that we have doesn’t have enough potential. There are talented youngsters like Shafqat Rasool, Zubair and Abbas, but they don’t know much about modern techniques like distribution and stopping.
There are academies to nurture the young talent. Are these academies any good?
We have two academies in two of our bigger cities, and they should continue working. But we do not have grooming centres in different cities where players between the ages of 18 and 23 can be properly trained.
Hockey is on the decline in Pakistan, and is no more a popular sport. What is the one major reason for it?
We have been recalling old horses for the last five or six years, which is discouraging to the newcomers. That’s one of the reasons. Even as selectors we don’t seem to resist such a policy.
Some people blame Astroturf for it. What’s your take on that?
The players who play well on grassy surfaces can play competitive hockey on Astroturf. Their game gets better automatically when they are introduced to Astroturf; but they should have sufficient skill. That’s the key.
How do you foresee Pakistan performing at the Beijing Olympics?
After what has happened during the Azlan Shah Cup, it would be difficult for Pakistan to even finish among the top four in Beijing. At present, Holland, Germany, Spain and Australia are superior teams. Then there is South Korea and the fast-improving China.
In an interview with Mag4you.com, former Olympian Hanif Khan criticised the playing schedule of the Pakistan hockey team, which the federation devised as part of the team’s preparations for the Olympic Games. He said Pakistan shouldn’t play against low ranked teams like China, Malaysia and Belgium. What’s your opinion?
I agree with Hanif.
As a selector, do you foresee any change in the team for the Beijing Olympics?
In my opinion, we need one more centre-half and another winger for the left flank. We should try out Adnan Maqsood and Akhter Ali for these positions.