Pakistan versus India: Always controversial, always immature

Published: December 15, 2014
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(2R) walks past as Pakistan players celebrate a goal against India during their Hero Hockey Champions Trophy 2014 semi final match. PHOTO: AFP

I was unable to witness the last time Pakistan defeated India on home ground in the 1980s; I wasn’t there to see Pakistan’s flag hoisted in India after their defeat; and I wasn’t there to hear my national anthem sung on Indian soil. The only idea I had about our victory was through accounts of my elders, who were there when it happened – who were there to experience the adrenaline rush such a victory could bring.

And I always felt like I had missed out on something huge.

But after I witnessed Pakistan’s victory over India in the 2014 Hero Hockey Champions Trophy semi-final on Saturday, I understood what it meant to see the national squad take down the one team every Pakistani hopes to beat. The high was truly phenomenal and saying “Pakistan Zindabad!” never made me feel so alive.

We qualified for the Champions Trophy finals after 16 long years – and that too after beating India – so this moment truly was one of celebration for us Pakistanis.

Pakistan played a brilliantly fast, Asian-styled, counter attack hockey in the quarter-final and semi-final rounds and showed their potential. It was a treat seeing our boys in green owning almost every match they played in. The players appeared to be fit and there were virtually no problems or signs of poor performance from our team – not even in the latter half of the matches, where we have a history of displaying signs of exhaustion. Also, the new format, with four 15-minute quarters instead of two 35-minute halves, was better suited to our players because after every break they attacked with more energy.

The current, relatively new, set-up of team management and players boasts each players merit and makes fans like me very optimistic about seeing another era of Pakistan’s domination in hockey. After a very long time, this team has shown us the potential to be a World Cup-winning squad. If the management works honestly with this combination – and doesn’t fall prey to the corruption that is already deeply infused in our games – the chances of Pakistan becoming one of the top three teams of the world look very bright.

Even though we lost the finals, we can regard Pakistan’s performance in this tournament as the revival of hockey. This tournament was a much needed boost for the game.

In September 2013, we saw how our national game was thrust to the lowest ebb of its history, when we lost to South Korea and weren’t even able to qualify for the hockey world cup. After that, most Pakistanis lost faith in the game and the number of hockey followers in the country decreased exponentially. In such a situation, the hockey team had to come up with something special to win back their followers and rekindle that passion for the game.

With this match, they did exactly that.

Pakistan’s Abbasi Shakeel (L) and South Korea’s Jang Jong Hyun (R) fight for the ball during their semi-final match at the Asia Cup field hockey 2013 tournament in Ipoh on August 30, 2013. Photo: AFP

In the beginning, Pakistan lost all three matches and the idea that this team was inept became even more ingrained in our minds. However, the team returned with a bang and surprised everyone by winning a decisive victory against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals. Everyone was shocked by this miracle, and this peaked people’s interest enough to make them follow the national team again.

After this match, we saw the semi-finals unfold, and along with it the unnerving excitement and emotion that any Pakistan-versus-India match commands. The match went by phenomenally and the victory made us all believers, once again.

Australia hockey players celebrate a goal against Pakistan during their Hockey Champions Trophy 2014 match at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in India on December 9, 2014.

Pakistan’s Umar Bhutta Muhammad (C) celebrates a goal against the Netherlands with teammates during their Hero Hockey Champions Trophy 2014 quater final match at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on December 11, 2014. Photo: AFP

Pakistan hockey captain Imran Muhammad (L) and teammates take their jerseys off as they celebrate their victory over India with teammates during their Hero Hockey Champions Trophy 2014 semi final match at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on December 13, 2014. Photo: AFP

Unfortunately, the celebrations came to an abrupt halt when our players, whilst rejoicing their win, took off their shirts, while other made obscene gestures towards the crowd. While this behaviour is condemnable, and Pakistan itself criticised its players for displaying uncouth behaviour, this incident is not the first of its kind and Pakistan has not been the only nation to indulge in such acts. In fact, after Pakistani coach, Shahnaz Shaikh, apologised on behalf of the team, the FIH (International Hockey Federation) cleared the boys for any wrongdoing. This, however, was retracted when the president of India Hockey Federation, Narinder Batra, stated that,

“I am instructing my CEO to inform FIH that in case this kind of behaviour by teams is within normal and tolerable limits of FIH, then we may not be interested to host any more tournaments in India and the tournaments may be shifted to countries which tolerate this kind of nonsense and uncouth behaviour.”

While I respect Mr Batra’s solidarity with the Indian team, the entire fiasco reeked of political rivalry. In my opinion, the first decision made by tournament director of the Hero Hockey Champions Trophy, Wiert Doyer, was perfectly sensible. When the apology was tendered by the Pakistani coach, the entire incident, like every other incident that has taken place in the past, should have been put aside in the spirit of sportsmanship. The coach would have reprimanded the team and the mistake would not have occurred again. The idea to use your position as host to blackmail the FIH into changing its verdict, however, is petty and immature. There have been many incidents, on various occasions and in various sports in which the Indian team has also displayed crude and unruly behaviour – is that automatically forgotten when Pakistan sets foot on Indian soil?

Our players have shown great potential and effective results. Now it is up to our team management to keep our machine well-oiled and that means siding by the players when they are attacked unfairly as well.  The game has suffered enough already and it is time for Pakistan to bask in well-deserved hockey glory.

This is probably the first time in a long time that hockey has surpassed cricket in terms of the attention it is receiving. Our hockey squad has set a very high benchmark and needless to say, the upcoming matches will be more nail-biting than ever.

While I agree this win could have been much sweeter had our team behaved professionally, the beauty of sportsmanship should not be forgotten and if simple acts like players taking off their shirts can manage to hurt Indian sensibilities then perhaps they do not have what it takes to host international events like these. The Indian Hockey Federation bullying the FIH into using a ‘stricter’ approach against Pakistan just goes to show that the win was most definitely not appreciated by our neighbours. But if India wants to play a sport, then winning and losing comes with it, and for them to accept that the sore loser act has got to go. For Pakistan, however, regardless of the complications created by India, the win was bittersweet and will remain to be so.

Aqib Shahzad Bhatti

Aqib Shahzad Bhatti

Pursuing Masters in Chemical Engineering from NUST. He is an inveterate sports devotee and loves writing. He tweets @aqibbhatti (twitter.com/AQIBBHATTI)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.