PakistanXIvsWorldXI
Photo Credits : ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)

There can be plenty of ways to look at the World XI vs Pakistan XI Hall of Fame Tour that ended on Sunday, with Pakistan’s young boys playing out a 3-3 draw against the experienced stars of yesteryears in their second match of the series in Lahore.

For the record, World XI took home the trophy having won the opening game 5-1 in Karachi.

But then winning or losing was never the underline factor of this series. The two-match exhibition matches in Pakistan — a country that has seen little action in terms of international sports in the last 10 years — was an attempt to showcase to the world that Pakistan was safe to travel and also to bring back hockey to the country. And Pakistan has definitely scored on that account.

Yes, there were some organizational delays, and the crowds too didn’t fill up the stadiums with only a handful of them turning out both in Karachi and Lahore but in the end, the series did offer a ray of hope. It brought about a beginning that Pakistan hockey has been waiting for.

There were words of praise all around with former international players from Australia, Germany, Spain, Holland and Argentina expressing delight at playing in the subcontinent and also lending out a helping hand, saying they were ready to stand with Pakistan in their endeavour to boost their hockey.

Past champions

There was a time when Pakistan was a hub of international hockey. The National Hockey Stadium in Lahore — where the World XI played Pakistan XI on Sunday — was the proud host of the 1990 Hockey World Cup. It was a time when Pakistan hockey was at its peak and their fans knew a podium finish was guaranteed if they took part. Lahore witnessed similar scenes when the Green Shirts stood proudly on the podium with silver medals dazzling around their necks.

On Sunday, the same venue had only a handful of spectators even as former international stars returned to the Pakistan soil after many, many years. It can be argued that these matches didn’t have an international status nor was there any representative from the International Hockey Federation, but in the larger context of things, it still is a positive sign.

It was an encouraging display of sportsmanship and harmony as players from both teams exchanged pleasantries and posed for photographs.

World XI skipper Roderick Westhouf of Holland said “other countries are standing with Pakistan” as it looks to push its hockey.

“It was a fabulous effort and we felt so welcomed,” said Westhouf. “It is time to support them.”

For Pakistan Under-18 players, it was a novel opportunity to compete on their home ground — international teams have kept away from Pakistan after a militant attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in 2009 — and also mingle with the senior pros and get tips.

Once the matches were over, Pakistan juniors had several questions for the World XI players, both on hockey and life.

Westhouf said he enjoyed giving tips to Pakistan’s future stars who asked him about the game, handling pressure and playing on the big stage.

Said Westhouf, “There is plenty of talent here and if tapped well, Pakistan can rise from here.”

What next?

The World XI-Pakistan XI matches may have opened a small door for Pakistan hockey, but the federation knows it will have to do a lot of real work to cover up on lost ground. Proper planning, a professional set of people to run the sport, hiring top notch coaches, aggressive marketing and pumping in money — these are a few basics that they require to infuse life back into its main sport.

More than the issue of international teams traveling to Pakistan, it has also been about the country failing to catch up with the rest in times of modern methods and meticulous planning.

Today, Pakistan are ranked 13th in the world and missed out on both the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2014 World Cup for the first time ever. It was a heavy blow to the country that was once invincible in world hockey.

But then, all is not lost for them. There is talent in abundance and a will to fight. They also have a rich history to inspire them.

Said legendary Pakistan drag-flicker Sohail Abbas, “It will take a lot of collective effort from both the federation and the players to bring up hockey again.

“The onus is as much on the players as on the people who run the sport. Look at India, how they have developed in the last five years. Pakistan needs to learn from them.

“Things like having no international hockey, no exposure or lack of big teams playing here does make a difference and it sometimes leads to situations where players don’t feel motivated.

“There isn’t enough hockey in school, no proper jobs but then we are all a part of it and each one of us has to play his/her part to lift the sport.

“There is a lot of pride in wearing the Green Shirt and it is a collective responsibility.”

With the World XI series, Pakistan have taken a small but significant step ahead and it is time to build on it.