ISLAMABAD - As many as 52 players reported to coach Malik Shafqat on the inaugural day of the Pakistan hockey team training camp, which commenced here at Naseer Bunda Hockey Stadium on Tuesday.

Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) invited 64 players for the training camp, which will continue till August 14 for the 10th Men’s Asia Hockey Cup, to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh from October 12 to 22. The most interesting thing to note is that neither head coach/manager Farhat Khan reported, nor coach Sarwar, while national hockey team skipper Abdul Haseem Khan was also the notable absentee.

When this scribe visited Pakistan Sports Complex to meet with head coach Farhat Khan, who was supposed to arrive on Monday morning to seek report from the players, PHF secretary Shahbaz Senior informed that Farhat would most likely to come on Tuesday night, while Haseem Khan and coach Sarwar would also report on Tuesday night, but the inside sources have confirmed that the federation and even coach Malik Shafqat was in dark regarding Farhat and others whereabouts.

When this scribe met with Shafqat to know the purpose of conducting the training camp, when less than 3 months were left for the Asia Cup and whether it would be fruitful for the players to lift their shattered morale, he replied that he wasn’t aware of the absence of Farhat and others, but they would join the camp soon. “The dates for the camp were announced all of a sudden, so it takes times to get released the letters from departments. I agree that time is very short, but we will give our more than 100 percent to lift morale of the players.”

He said they would mainly focus on players’ mental, physical and tactical areas. “Yes, time is short, but we are hopeful that with the dedication and hard work, we will be able to prepare the boys both mentally and physically. Although the players will commit mistakes because most of them are first timers and don’t have international exposure, but it is the job of senior players to take juniors alongside them and ensure they must learn how to absolve pressure.

“The federation has recalled a few senior players and I strongly suggest and believe that seniors, who think they still have hockey left in them, should contact PHF president Brig (r) Khalid Sajajd Khokhar, who is a thorough gentleman, and will surely listen to them and invite them in the camp. I feel seniors can play major role in helping Pakistan hockey team in Asia Cup, but for that, they must make them available and meet with either president or secretary to get place in the camp,” he added.

The coach said that it is the national and moral duty of all former greats and Olympians to join hands and work for the joint cause of helping Pakistan hockey in the best possible fashion. “I and others have accepted the challenge of working with the national team without setting any pre-conditions. We even didn’t discuss contract and other things with the PHF, as we just want to work devotedly and help the national team lift the Asia Cup first and then next year’s Hockey World Cup. I know the task is difficult but not impossible.”

“We started training on Tuesday in two sessions as the first session started at 5:30am soon after the prayers and continued till 7:30am, while the second session started at 4:30pm and finished at 6:30pm. We also conduct fitness tests of the players. I feel only those players should remain in the camp, who are physically and mentally fit, as it is all about the survival of fittest. The camp will conclude on August 14 and we will assemble in Karachi. Before the Asia Cup starts, we want the PHF to arrange a series against Malaysia, Korea or Japan, as we need practice matches to provide competitive action and match practice to players.

“We will face stiff competition from India, Malaysia, Korea, China and even Bangladesh, as being hosts, they will enjoy crowd support and can turn the table on any given opponent, but we will only focus on ground performance without taking any pressure,” Shafqat concluded.