PAKISTAN may have a reputation as a powerhouse in hockey, but they have come to the 29th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2022 starting in Ipoh on Tuesday and intend to use the tournament as a relaunching pad.
Field hockey in Pakistan is a national sport and once ranked world number 1 in 2000 and 2001, they are currently ranked a low 18th.
They have failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup in India, when they failed to qualify for the Super Four stage of the Asia Hockey Cup 2022 when they were defeated by Japan 3-2 in a closely-fought final Pool A match at Jakarta’s GBK Sports Complex Hockey Stadium.
“We have come with a relatively young team with minimum experience but believe that this is the squad for the resurrection of Pakistan hockey,” said team coach Ayaz Mehmood, a former Olympian who was a member of the last Olympic gold medal winning team at the 1984 Games.
“Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) made drastic changes to the team after we failed to qualify for the World Cup and decided that we work with a young squad with the future in mind,” said Ayaz, a former national team selectors for 36 years.
The head coach for the team is Siegfried Aikman, a Dutch who grew up in the Indian community in Paramaribo, left that environment when he went to live with his mother in the Netherlands as a 12-year old.
The team manager is another ex-international, Saeed Muhammad Khan, who was Ayaz’s teammate.
“We have a great management team who work as a unit with the best interest of the team at all times with constant discussions and exchange of ideas,” said Ayaz.
“It was after the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in August where we finished a poor 7th, that PHF decided that enough is enough and we need to check our slide and think about the future.
“And when many senior players started to play for teams in League in England after the Commonwealth Games, we decided we start working with younger players who were prepared to work hard and were fitter and stronger.”
The Pakistan team to Ipoh only has captain and experienced campaigner Umar Bhutta in team.
“The average age of the team in 23 years-old. We have a few players who have played at international level but basically we have about 10 players who have minimum or no experience at all playing international hockey. All they have is playing in the domestic league,” said Ayaz who works fulltime with Pakistan Airlines for the last 42 years as a marketing manager of the airlines.
“We have 36 players who have been in training for a month and the 18 here are the best. We are banking on them to rise to the occasion and end with at least a podium finish.
“We believe in these players and they have the potential. They only lack international exposure. But if for any reason some fail to perform to expectations, we will replace them with the remaining players from the pool of 36 players.”
Pakistan have won the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup thrice (1998, 2000,2003) finished runners up six times (1983, 1987, 1991, 1994, 2004, 2011) and 3rd spot twice (1985, 2005). This is the 22nd time they will be competing and the last time they participated was in 2016 when they finished 5th.
The Pakistan team arrived in Ipoh on Saturday evening and had their first training session in the night.
Pakistan open their campaign on Tuesday against South Africa at 6pm after the first match of the day between Japan and Egypt at 4.00pm Malaysia take on Korea at 8.00pm.