Sohail Abbas
Photo Credits : AFP/Getty Images

A plethora of current and former hockey stars are set to arrive in Pakistan this week, as the country begins its effort to revive the sport in its backyard.

A two-match hockey series — a brainchild of former cricketer and Pakistan Cricket Board marketing director Badar Rafai — is set to see Pakistan’s Under-18 players take on a World XI with the matches set to be held in Karachi and Lahore on January 19 and 21, respectively.

International stars from Australia, Argentina, Spain, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Germany will arrive in Karachi on January 18 and are hoping that they will be “welcomed with open arms”.

The World XI will be led by the former drag-flicker and legendary Pakistan player Sohail Abbas, who retired many years ago, while the Pakistan Hockey Federation has decided to field their Under-18 team for the matches in a bid to provide exposure to the young and upcoming lot.

Of those who will be part of the World XI are Australia’s Grant Schubert, who was a part of their gold medal winning team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, New Zealand’s experienced striker Phil Burrows, Rob Reckers of the Netherlands, Spain’s Santi Freixa, Germany’s Benni West besides others.

Focus will also be on former greats Paul Litjens and Floris Jan Bovelander (both from the Netherlands), Germany’s Chris Blunck and Juan Escarre of Spain, distinguished Australian umpire Don Prior and five former Pakistan players, all of whom will be honoured at the matches for their service to the sport. Shahnaz Sheikh, Akthar Rasool, Samiullah, Hassan Sardar and Shahbaz Ahmed Senior are the ones from Pakistan to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Said former Pakistan winger and captain of their World Cup winning team in 1978, Islahuddin Siddique,

“It is a great initiative and Pakistan fans are eagerly awaiting for this series.Players from Australia, Holland, Argentina and other countries are coming to Pakistan and we want to send across the message that Pakistan loves its sports and is a safe haven for sportsmen. A lot of preparations are been done and there will be cultural programmes too, making it a mix of sport and cultural exchange.

On the composition of players in the Pakistan XI, Islahuddin said the younger lot has been picked up keeping in mind the future of Pakistan hockey.

The junior boys have never been able to play the big names on their home turf in front of the crowds. It will be a great learning experience for them. It will be an incentive for them and I am sure it will help in their gamePakistan wants to open its doors for world hockey and we hope people across the globe will take note of this event.

Pakistan’t junior stars are currently undergoing a camp in Karachi and a final team for the two-match series is expected to be announced soon.

Said Pakistan Hockey Federation president Khalid Sajjad Khokhar,

We believe that with friendly matches like these, focus will be back on Pakistan hockey. A lot of international players are visiting us and I think it can help bring back international hockey to the country. The national and domestic players will benefit from this.”

The match in Karachi will be played under floodlights and the one in Lahore will be a day affair.

The World XI: Roderick Weusthof, Rob Reckers, Matthijs Brouwer, Hiddi Turkstra, Philip Meulenbroek (all from The Netherlands); Phillip Burrows, Kyle Pontifex (both from New Zealand); Santi Friexa, Roc Oliva, David Alegre (all from Spain), Grant Shubert (Australia); Benni West, Justus Scharowsky (both from Germany); Agustin Bugallo, Diego Paz, Nahuel Salis (all from Argentina); Sohail Abbas (Pakistan).

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