The Hockey World Cup was held in India earlier this month and there were great expectations that Pakistan would once again rise to the occasion and shine in world hockey circles as was the custom.
The history of world hockey is replete with Pakistan hockey teams leaving the best of the rest in their wake. M V Tronson, Chairman of Well-Being Australia and long-term sportswriter and author on field hockey, has seen many a top Pakistan hockey team perform at such sparkling levels as to leave him wondering whether he was watching a ballet on the field hockey pitch.
The records are astonishing
Pakistan as Champions at Hockey World Cups – 1971, 1978, 1982, 1994.
Pakistan as Olympic Gold Medallists – 1960, 1968 and 1984.
Pakistan as Champion's Trophy Champions – 1978, 1980, 1994.
Pakistan as Asian Games Champions – 1958, 1962, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1990
Pakistan was runner up or in the final four at innumerable of these above Championships. The differences between the top six teams has always been tight, and to reach the semi-finals is a huge effort and most losses in a semi-final are rarely by more than one or two goals.
In this Hockey World Cup being played on the sub-continent, it was expected Pakistan would be one of the fancied teams and a semi-final berth was almost assured regardless of the opposition or how tough it might have been.
Alas, this was not to be. From the very first match, there were signs that all might not be well with Pakistan hockey when they went down to archrivals India 1-4. Possibly a one or two goal difference would have meant that the Pakistan team was on target even if they didn't win, but to allow in four goals and only score one themselves illustrated they were below par.
But Pakistan rallied and put paid to Spain 2-1. Spain is one of the fancied European teams, having won the Silver Medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a semi-finals in Athens 2004 and the Bronze Medal in the last World Cup. Spain is all 'class', and so the thinking among hockey watches was that Pakistan had awoken from their slumber.
But then reality set in with a 'shock-horror' loss to the European Champions, England, 2-5; and then another loss, this time to South Africa 3-4. By this time hockey watchers were in sackcloth and ashes, mourning the demise of Pakistan hockey, because South Africa had just been beaten the previous game by Australia by a whopping 0-12 (leaving some commentators in Australia to wonder if it was a football score). Then Australia at half pace not wanting any injury leading up to the semi-finals, tossed Pakistan aside 2-1.
Pakistan finished in last place, losing embarrassingly to Canada 2-3 in extra time. Pakistan Hockey acted swiftly. The coach and team management were immediately dismissed. The selection panel was officially sacked. The entire team offered to tender their retirement notices after what happened with their leading cricketers.
There seems to be several reasons why Pakistan has not performed as well as in the past. The first issue is security of their persons in that they were playing in India and their Radical Muslim compatriots had threatened everyone who came to the Hockey World Cup. The Pakistan hockey team members may have had other things to think about.
Mark Tronson has noted previously the truth of the adage that when politics in Pakistan was in trouble, so too the Pakistan hockey team suffered. One doesn't need to be a political writer to recognise this factor.
Another factor relates to the quality of umpiring in Pakistan. It was more than obvious that the one nation without a representative umpire at the Hockey World Cup was Pakistan. Without tip-top referees, no hockey nation can forge ahead. That team will get to an international event only to be pinged for every tiny error for which they were unaccustomed to notice at home.
All these different facets of life in Pakistan at present must play on the minds and morale of the hockey players. As is usual in life, any one of these would be easily overcome by such professional sportsmen as these, but they play one upon the other, adding up to a sorry state of affairs for the moment.
"In all the years I have travelled the world as a hockey writer, the Pakistan hockey community has always welcomed me with honour, although they know I am a Baptist minister and an unashamed missionary," Mark Tronson concludes.
"And when I am in taxis in Sydney, if I meet Pakistani taxi drivers, I can always warm their hearts by discussing hockey. I sincerely hope and pray that this setback to a wonderfully strong international team is temporary, and that we will see Pakistan back in the forefront of the competition in future years."