India and Pakistan may have won 11 Olympic hockey titles between them and ruled the Games arena for decades, but today both teams have lost their sheen and are struggling even make a mark at the game’s highest level. India won eight gold medals, including a record six in a row, while Pakistan claimed three victories.
Things have changed In all, the two neighbours account for 19 Olympic hockey medals. But that was in the past and even a semifinal is a distant dream.
“Both India and Pakistan teams lack class and are pinning their hopes on chance in the London Games,” says Pakistan team manager Akhtar Rasool, a highly regarded former centre half, who was a prominent member of Pakistan’s past World Cup winning teams. “There was a time when hockey in Olympics meant India and Pakistan. And both the teams were so strong that despite missing chances they were capable of turning the tables on the opponents anytime,” he added.
“Today the scenario is opposite. They can’t afford to miss a chance and that’s why I am stressing on the fact that both the teams are pinning their hopes on chances here.”
After achieving the qualifying mark, India coach Michael Nobbs made a realistic assessment, saying that anything better than a top-eight finish would be a bonus.
Akhtar said, “We all want to see both the teams regain their golden phase. But if we are realistic, then at least for now it appears a very difficult task.”
He added: “Every team takes the field to win the match, but you have to be a realistic.”
India begin their campaign against Netherlands on July 30.
Whenever India and Pakistan face each other, everyone takes note and it helps develop the sport across the border. “If both the teams want to see themselves again among the sporting powerhouses, they should play more matches with each other. This will help both teams,” Akhtar said. “Keeping aside politics, there should be a revival of India-Pakistan hockey series. After all it is sports.”
Pakistan has forgiven its players who have played in the rival World Series of Hockey (WSH) in India and have even included two, including Rehan Bhatt, in their London Olympic squad. “We have given them a chance, and after imposing a cash penalty, we have taken back the players who played in the WSH. Though it’s the prerogative of Hockey India whether they want to forgive the players who played in the rebel league, they should show a large heart.”