BHUBANESWAR: Mercurial is a word, over-used though it is, that best embodies Pakistan in sport. They are like an automobile with a faulty gearbox, either it stutters to start or straightaway purrs on the fifth. Their propensity to self-kill without any provocation is as much as a trait as their ability to surprise when least expected, as they did in beating the mighty Netherlands.
This inconstancy is perhaps a reason Pakistan endears so much to the neutrals. The preamble to the Champions Trophy was hardly inspiring. The game is sliding in the country, as it never was before. Political chaos has denied them home matches. Administrative ineptness has prompted their players to seek greener pastures abroad.
Their participation in the Champions Trophy itself was under a cloud of doubt, financially crunched as federation is. Finally, it required a Karachi-based businessman to fund them. They crossed the Wagah by bus from Lahore. Four days later, they were run ragged by England. Predictably, they ended last in the pool. But for the quirky format of the tournament, they wouldn’t have merited a quarterfinal berth. So even before the speakers croaked to the melodious Quami Taranah as they lined up for their quarterfinal fixture against Netherlands, the table topper of group B, Pakistan’s fate seemed sealed. They seemed like lambs to the slaughter.
But wait before penning preposterous obituaries for Pakistan, precisely for the reason they are Pakistan.
What ensued in the next hour reiterated their legendary reputation. They dished out a brand of hockey they were once celebrated for—fast, furious and carefree. Whereas in the recent past, various coaches had tried to inculcate European ethos into the Asian game, Pakistan stuck to the elementary simplicity. “We changed our game plan and got back to Asian style of hockey, which means classical play. We never stopped attacking. We conceded an early goal, but that didn’t stop us. Even when we were leading, we never tried to sit back and defend,” Pakistan coach Sheikh Shahnaz testified as much. But it wasn’t all about style either. “We studied Holland’s defence according to their previous matches and worked on the penalty corner conversions, which really helped us in scoring goals. We defended extremely well and hardly gave them any easy chances,” pointed out Muhammad Imran, the ever-so under-stated bulwark of the side.
The win, he reckons, has come as a palliative to forget their recent turmoil, on and off the field. “The last few months have been hard. We hardly played an international tournament, apart from the Asian Games. We were low on confidence coming into the tournament and then lost three matches. But this win, hopefully, will have a positive effect on us and we will look to ride the momentum. The atmosphere in the dressing room will be completely different,” he said.
Imran believes his younger peers can revive the forgotten glory of Pakistan hockey. Maybe, he is convinced of their abilities. Maybe, he is hoping against hope. But with Pakistan you never know ever.