Pakistan hockey captain Zeeshan Ashraf is carrying a huge responsibility on his shoulders --- both for his country and the sport.
With no representation in track and field events following doping bans on nine athletes last month, Pakistan has pinned all its hopes on hockey at the Commonwealth Games.
“We are determined for a good finish here as it would help us put some balm on our wounds, especially after a pathetic 12th-place finish in the World Cup earlier this year, at the same venue.
“The demons of the World Cup debacle are still haunting us and we have done our home work well to give a good account of ourselves this time around,” Ashraf told HT at the Games Village on Thursday.
“I have already taken the responsibility for the debacle, and I know how much it hurts. But, now we are totally fresh and have made special plans to stay in the medal hunt,” said the veteran fullback, who had to come out of retirement after the World Cup failure.
“We have to play according to our reputation here as we are the runners-up from the 2006 Melbourne last Games,” he said, adding, “Our first target will be to reach the semifinals, and if we are able to do that, I am sure we can upset the best teams," said Ashraf.
“It will be a very tough tournament, but I am confident the boys will do well,” he said, adding, “We are taking this competition as a test event ahead of the Asian Games in November, where the champions would get a direct entry to the Olympics.”
He also termed the appointment of Dutchman Michel van den Heuvel as coach after the World Cup debacle “quite beneficial”. “The new coach has been looking after the preparations quite well for the past four months, and we enjoy a good rapport with him."
Pakistan’s first task --- of reaching the semifinals --- looks tough as they are pitted alongside title-holders and world champions, Australia, besides India, Malaysia and Scotland.