Why we lost the hockey game against Australia

Published: August 8, 2012
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Pakistan did not come into the tournament as favourites, and the result is not beyond expectations. PHOTO: REUTERS

Australia demolished Pakistan by seven goals to nil thus putting an end to the hopes and aspirations of Pakistan hockey fans and fraternity. Australia have now qualified for the semi final while Pakistan will have to content for the the 5th and 6th position playoffs.

It was estimated that in a do or die game like this, Pakistan would go all out on attack right from the beginning and not worry too much on defence, but surprisingly the team management’s decision not to field three main strikers Rehan Butt, Haseem Khan and Shakeel Abbasi in the first 15 minutes of the game proved to be fatal. The game plan to start defensively in this decisive game caused irreparable damage to Pakistan as it could not withstand the Australian charges and conceded two goals in the first 10 minutes of the match. This two goal margin was doubled in the same half ─ a margin that had immense psychological impact on the boys. The second half saw three more Australian goals, sinking Pakistani hearts even deeper.

The management should have realised what a demoralising effect a high margin lead in the first half would have on the boys. When a team is a goal down, then its efforts should be to reduce the margin immediately and not go on the defensive, and allow the opposition further attacks.

An equaliser expiates the demoralising effect on the team and brings hope back into the game. But against this, Pakistan team management decided to play defensive even though two goals had been scored against them making the team sitting ducks to the Australian hawks. The management realised the mistake in the later period of the first half and fielded Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi, but at a time when we were losing with a big margin. Star forward Haseem, however, was nowhere to be seen on the pitch, except in the middle of the second half. Captain Sohail Abbas, too, was kept on and off the pitch resulting in an inconsistent defensive pattern.

Why in a crucial match like this, Pakistan started without their three main attackers, and why was the captain – who is the leader and inspiration to the team – kept off the pitch? Answers to these vital questions can only come from the team manager and coach. The management also decided to play zonal defense instead of man-to-man marking and this was also instrumental in giving an edge to the fast paced Australian attack, as they would frequently change positions with each other and not have anyone to mark them. It appeared that the entire match was an Australia versus goalkeeper Imran Shah affair. He was kept busy between the posts and along with conceding seven goals, and also managed to save quite a few attempts. Shah, who was also hurt during the first half had his own limitations and one must not put the blame on one person. He is a young keeper with a lot of talent, and had a lot on his shoulders in this Olympics.

With this defeat, Pakistan are out of the medal race, however there are still games that need to be played and the team should retain its composure for the playoffs. Pakistan did not come into the tournament as favourites, and the result is not beyond expectations. Now we must salvage what remains and at least try to win the remaining playoff games and improve our world rankings.

If there is someone to carry the ultimate responsibility for Pakistan’s overall performance in this tournament as well as in world hockey over the years, then it is those running the Pakistan Hockey Federation, and after this tournament the federation set up definitely needs an overhaul. It is expedient that after the Olympics, the Pakistan hockey structure as well as the national governing body and its subsidiary associations are reformed to regain our lost glory.

Senior players Sohail Abbas, Waseem Ahmed, Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi will definitely need to call it a day after their lengthy careers. In forwards, Haseem Khan, Shafqat Rasool, and Rizwan Bhutta, we have a talented lot. Midfielder Rasheed Mahmood, and defender Muhammad Irfan have shown extraordinary skill in this tournament. Goalkeeper Imran Shah needs some coaching, but he has the spark and reflexes to make into a world class keeper.

The residue of the Olympics squad does show promise for the future, but we need a good administrative structure of hockey in the country to develop the sport at domestic and international level. The coach and team manager who takes up after the Olympics needs to be an indigenous one instead of an imported option. He should be retained for a period long enough to produce concrete results.

Read more by Kashif here.

Kashif.Shahzada

Kashif Shahzada

A hockey coach based in Karachi and tweets as @KashifShahzada (twitter.com/KashifShahzada)

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