Groping in the dark

Pakistan HockeyA member of the Pakistan team during practice at the National Stadium in New Delhi on Monday (IE Photo Ravi Kanojia)

India and South Africa were playing a practice match on the floodlit Pitch 2 of the National Stadium on Monday evening, even as Argentina were training on the main turf as per the schedule. At the same time, on a desolated pitch tucked away in a bleak corner of the complex, a bunch of players wearing florescent green jerseys walked in to sweat it out.

The conditions weren't ideal as they proceeded to practice in near-darkness, but this being the Pakistan Under-21 team, the backdrop was, ironically, apt.

These are dark times for hockey in Pakistan. It will be the first time in their illustrious history that the four-time champions will not be playing in the Senior World Cup, to be held in the Netherlands in May-June 2014. In the Asia Cup in August, they lost to Korea in the semi-finals and failed to make the grade.

With no senior WC to play for, Pakistan have channelised all their focus and attention to the Junior World Cup beginning in New Delhi on December 6. The event assumes the importance that it has as Pakistan look to wipe the slate clean and build an entirely new squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics and beyond.

Pakistan senior national coach Tahir Zaman is currently accompanying the colts in India and will be keeping a keen eye on their performance here.

"We are trying to develop a new team," said Zaman, part of the team that did the memorable World Cup-Champions Trophy double in 1994. "In the Asian Champions Trophy last month, which is a senior-level tournament, there were 8-10 players from this squad. We won that event. So, it was a good start. Now, we come to the Junior World Cup. It's a big opportunity for these youngsters.

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