IN THE NEWS
On October 8, 2004, Pakistan’s Sohail Abbas stepped into the realm of fame.
With his 268th goal in Amritsar Sohail set a new world record, overtaking Dutch star Paul Litjens. He had equalled Litjens’ record of 267 goals in the fifth Test in New Delhi on October 4.
The record came about six years after his first goal at the Rawalpindi Army Hockey Stadium. Having made his debut in the 1998 India-Pakistan series under the captaincy of Tahir Zaman, Sohail Abbas was brought in as a substitute by team manager Islahuddin in the second Test on March 1,1998. Off a penalty corner by Olympian Rahim Khan, Sohail beat Indian goalkeeper AB Subbaiah. Ever since there has been no looking back.
The 29-year-old Sohail, son of cricketer Iftikar Hussain from Karachi, has already represented Pakistan in two Olympics (Sydney and Athens), two World Cups (Utrecht, Kuala Lumpur), two Asian Games (Bangkok, Busan), and seven editions of the Champions Trophy.
"I am grateful to Allah for having bestowed this honour on me here," Sohail told The Tribune soon after his feat at Amritsar. "Not once did I feel I was playing on foreign soil," he said while referring to the warmth experienced in the holy city.
In a span of six-and-a-half years, Sohail has come to represent the best in international hockey, and his dreaded drag flick has transformed him into Pakistan’s trumpcard.
Born on June 9, 1975, Sohail was encouraged by his father Iftikar Hussain, and brother Syed Zulfikar Hussain but his teacher and mentor at Habib Public School, whom he calls Wahid Sahib, played a key role in shaping his game. "Initially I played as a forward but Wahid Sahib and Nasim Mirza, a well-wisher, encouraged me to play as a full back. I developed interest in the drag flick after studying the Germans, and Bram Lomans of Holland. I saw video clips of Lomans in action. Wahid Sahib used to provide me balls and gradually I developed mastery after hours of practice."
One of the finest exponents of the art of drag flicks, Sohail burst on the national scene in 1996. The chequered career of this ace drag flicker has not been without controversy. On the eve of the Australian tour, he was dropped on disciplinary grounds and fined along with former skipper Mohammed Nadeem for having played in the German league without permission. After Pakistan were defeated in the twin meets at Sydney and Perth, Sohail was recalled for the Champions Trophy at Amstelveen last year.
Sohail’s elegance in executing the drag flicks sets him apart from the rest and the ball flying at different trajectories at great speed has often left players and umpires bewildered. At Amritsar, umpires Amarjeet Singh and Satinder Sharma had to consult the technical table before awarding the goal as none had seen the ball piercing the net.
Sohail overtook legendary Hassan Sardar’s tally of 50 goals in a calendar year in 1999. He then scored 60 goals to better Paul Litjens’ record of 58 goals in a year. He also bested Hassan Sardar’s record of 150 goals, scoring his 151st goal in his 124th match in 2002 to rewrite Pakistan hockey history.
Sohail was the highest scorer in the Asia Cup as well as the 2002 World Cup at Kuala Lumpur, where he shared the honour with Argentina’s Jorge Lombi with 10 goals.
Sohail also proved to be a threat during the Sydney Olympics when he scored a hat-trick against Britain. In all, he has 19 hat-tricks to his credit.
Sohail still has many years of hockey in him and says he would quit while the going was still strong. "Izzat se chhorna chahoonga, na ki koi laat mar kar bahar nikale," he said at the Chandigarh Lake Club on October 6 after the draw against India.
— great performer
cricketers are flamboyant but inconsistent; some show consistency but
lack flair. Keith Miller (1919-2004) was one of few who had both. He was
a performer, in more ways than one.
He was as good an all-rounder as any. In 55 Tests, he scored 2,958 runs at an average of 36.97, took 170 wickets at 22.97 and pouched 38 catches. Figures don’t tell how much he was respected, if not feared, by rivals, admired by connoisseurs and idolised by youngsters.
Legendary cricket writer Neville Cardus called him "a young eagle among crows and daws". Ray Robinson, paid a fitting tribute to him back in 1951 when he wrote, "Masculine as Tarzan, he plays lustily. Style suffuses his cricket with glowing power, personality charges it with daring and knocks bowling and conventions sky-high. To young eyes...he is an Olympian god among mortals. He brings boys’ dreams to life."
Indian batting great Vijay Hazare, who played against Miller in the 1947-48 series Down Under, which India lost 0-4, recalled his unpredictable bowling. "He used to take a long run-up and bowl spinners, even googlies. But he could bowl very fast with a run-up of just two or three steps." For Lala Amarnath, who captained India in that series, Miller was "Australia’s best batsman as far as style is concerned, though, of course, none can compare with Bradman for runs."
There was never a dull moment while Miller was on the field. While Australia were scoring 721 against Essex at Southend in 1948, Miller told captain Don Bradman that he didn’t want to bat as scoring was too easy. Bradman insisted, so Miller walked to the wicket. Trevor Bailey bowled first ball to Miller, who shouldered his bat and didn’t play a shot, to be dismissed for a duck.
While running in to bowl, Miller didn’t always look at the batsman. He once started his run-up without noticing that the umpire’s arm was in his way as the batsman on strike wasn’t ready. When he almost collided with it, he checked his bowling action in a flash to shake the umpire’s outstretched hand.
Kumble’s winning ways
Called ‘Jumbo’ by team-mates because of the way his deliveries come to the batsmen, Anil Kumble became the second Indian bowler after the legendary Kapil Dev to capture 400 Test wickets. He achieved the landmark in front of his home crowd, including his mother, wife and child in Bangalore. However, it must have saddened him that India lost the match by a big margin.
Kumble is a perfect team man. After having taken 10 wickets in an innings at the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi against Pakistan on a foggy day in February 1999, he had said he was happy because his effort had helped India win the Test and square the series. The home team had lost the first Test in Chennai.
It is creditable that Kumble achieved the milestone in just 85 Tests . He is the third spinner after Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne to take 400 wickets in Test cricket. All the other bowlers in the 400 plus club are fast bowlers.
The 400 wickets could have come earlier but Kumble was forced out of the game for nearly 20 months due to a nagging shoulder injury.
In 1992 his career was in the doldrums and many pundits had written him off. But a 13-wicket haul in the Irani Trophy match in Delhi prior to the selection of the Indian team for the tour of South Africa helped. The rest is history. A medium pacer, Kumble became a leg spinner on the advice of his brother. Making full use of his height, Kumble has got a large number of wickets with top spinners which come at a fast pace off the wicket. It is a pity that Kumble never took his batting seriously inspite scoring a century in the Ranji Trophy.
Kumble, who turned 34 on October 17, made his Test debut against England at Manchester in 1990. He has carved a niche for himself, specially on home pitches which suited his style of bowling. His performance during India’s tour of Australia and Pakistan has been good. With Harbhajan Singh back in action, the Karnataka player is enjoying ample support from the other end.
Kumble still has a few years of cricket left in him and there is every likelihood of him overtaking Kapil Dev’s record of 434 wickets. He already has 415 wickets, climbing to No 7 in the list of highest wicket-takers. But for this perfect team man team goals will continue to have top priority. Personal glory can follow.
Shane Warne spun his name to the top of the highest wicket-takers list against India, whose batsmen have shown little respect for his magical skills and given him the worst and most ‘nightmares’.
With 538 wickets in 114 Tests, Warne has jumped to the top of the pack, finally overtaking lethal Sri Lankan, Muttiah Muralitharan’s, haul of 532. Injury has stalled Murali for the moment and he would try his best to wrest the record back from Warne.
The blond leggie has always been in news for his on-field as well off-field exploits. His actions have left the opinion divided. During the 1993 Ashes series, he bowled the ball of the century to Mike Gatting, where the ball pitched outside the on-stump and went on to clip the off-stump bail. A few years later, he had the ignominy of being stripped of the vice-captaincy for his off-field activity, after news of him having phone sex with a British nurse became public.
Warne also set the 2003 World Cup afire without bowling a ball when he tested positive for a diuretic. Australia’s trump card returned home before the tournament began, banned for a year for taking a pill he said his mother had given him to lose weight.
Warne’s answer to doubting skeptics has been a strong showing since his return after the ban. As befitting one of the Wisden’s top five cricketers of the century, Warne has achieved the top honour, probably the best leg spinner of all times.
Hockey team lacked killer instinct
The Indian hockey team’s dismal performance at the Athens Olympics has raised a few questions. Why did our hockey players fail despite best training at home and abroad ? The team was sent to the USA for almost a month for training and later to Germany. A foreign coach, Gerhard Rach, was appointed to improve the players' skill. However, the final result was that we retained the seventh position and failed to improve upon our showing in the Sydney Olympics. The luck and chance factor might be among the causes of our failure but the biggest drawback was that our players were not given any psychological training. Inspite of a good defence, our forwards failed to capitalise on several chances. Psychological training and mental fitness of our players is more important than physical fitness. The players need to develop the killer instinct.
Dr Agya Jit Singh
Brian Lara, West Indies captain and all his team-mates deserve heartiest congratulations for their fine victory over England in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy. They beat England by eight wickets. Really cricket is a game of miracles. It was certain at one stage that England were going to win the trophy when West India were 147 for 8. But the tailenders, Browne and Bradshaw, had other ideas and they turned the tables on England. Incidentally it was the first major achievement for West Indies in the past 25 years.
They had last won the World Cup.
Subhash C. Taneja