Hockey WC: India, Pakistan are underdogs, says veteran Shahbaz Ahmed
Pakistani all-time great Shahbaz Ahmed says inconsistency factor makes both sides less dangerous at World Cup
India and Pakistan share nearly half the number of World Cup titles and Olympic gold medals in hockey over the years (see box). But as things stand, neither can be referred to as a powerhouse in the sport, reason being hockey is not currently on a high, both at the grassroot as well as professional level, in both nations. Though Hockey India have done a fair bit in promoting the game and its players, Team India are yet to touch glorious international highs consistently while across the border, the game is in dire straits.
To explain the situation there could be few better than Pakistan hockey legend Shahbaz Ahmed, 50. "India and Pakistan used to be a hot bed for hockey at all levels — school college and senior — not anymore. Blame it on the lack of money in the sport or the lack of international success. At least India have pumped in good money into hockey in the last few years with the franchise-based Hockey India League and through top sponsors entering the fray.
'No money, no career'
"But in Pakistan, there is no money in hockey whatsoever. And with no money, there is no career, so youngsters are not keen to take up the game. The FIH [International Hockey Federation] should step in and offer some financial assistance to a country like Pakistan, who have a glorious hockey history," the mercurial Shahbaz, who won back-to-back Player of the Tournament awards at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, told mid-day from Lahore yesterday.
Known for his long strides and heavenly stick work that saw him lead his nation to 1994 World Cup glory in Sydney, Shahbaz, admitted Pakistan will be on the backfoot at the upcoming World Cup, but felt India are far from being favourites too. "The current Indian team have got good international exposure but still failed to make this year's Asian Games final in Indonesia, just like Pakistan. India have picked a young, promising team for the World Cup and we also have some good players like drag flicker Aleem Bilal and captain Muhammad Rizwan Sr.
I believe India and Pakistan are underdogs at this World Cup," said Shahbaz, considered one of the best forwards to have played the game. Speaking about the reasons for the fall of Asian hockey, Shahbaz was deathly accurate in his analysis, just like his defence-splitting passes of yesteryear. "Modern hockey is a team game and gone are the days where individual brilliance was an integral part of play. It's no use being a Shahbaz Ahmed now. You have to put up a unified display like Australia and the Netherlands, which makes them favourites to win the gold medal."
Shahbaz is currently the secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation and it is in this capacity that he makes his final comment: "Our boys got embroiled in an ugly controversy in India [where a couple of players made obscene gestures at the Bhubaneswar crowd] after beating India [in the 2014 Champions Trophy]. This time our president [Muhammad Khalid S Khokhar] has issued a strict warning to our players, asking them to behave themselves as they are ambassadors of the country. Any bad behaviour will be strictly dealt with."
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