Hayer’s hat-trick gets promoted Khalsa off to fine Midlands Premier start

My report of Khalsa Hockey Club’s first game of 2008-9 as published in Leamington Courier on 26/9/08

Khalsa: 4                     Northampton Saints: 2

Promoted Khalsa got their Midlands Premier Division campaign off to a flying start at St Nicholas’ Park on Saturday against the side that came up with them.

The hosts, Midlands One Champions last term and Warwick District Sports Awards team of the year winners, were three goals up at the break and only conceded in the closing stages. Mickey Hayer, last season’s top scorer, opened the account with a hat-trick.

Hayer scored his side’s first goal, converting a penalty stroke after set-piece specialist Aaron Nagra saw his penalty corner hit a defender’s body.

The unmarked Hayer doubled the lead on 15 minutes after good work by skipper Jay Nagra and Guri Ghuttara, beating the goalkeeper with a diving lunge.

Northampton had their chances, but a combination of solid defending and weak finishing kept them out. Neither did they have much joy in midfield, where the dominant Jay Nagra skilfully set up Hayer for Khalsa’s third goal before the break.

If Northampton had any ideas getting back into the game they were dispelled within four minutes as Ghuttara collected a fine Davinder pass and beat the keeper.  He might have had another almost at once, but his excellent reverse diving strike was stopped.

Saints never gave up, prompting Khalsa to slow the game down. They re-jigged things, giving youngster Savhan Lall his first taste of Midlands Premier hockey.

The hosts started to wind down in the closing stages and were twice caught out by Ben Scott goals, the second from the penalty stroke right at the end.

Late slips aside, this was an encouraging performance from a side whose ultimate ambition remains National League hockey.

Magellan launching UK operation in Birmingham

My business article published in Birmingham Post on Feb 24 2009

Magellan, Australia’s leading designer of high technology power electronics and renewable energy equipment has chosen Birmingham to launch its first UK operation.

The company is planning to open a centre in the city as a base for manufacturing and marketing in UK, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Starting in 1992, Magellan is now a multi-million dollar business with expertise in the manufacturing and supplying of advanced, high reliability AC and DC power systems for sensitive radar installations, switchgear, emergency lighting, hospital theatre lighting, oil and gas equipment and mining equipment. The company has also supplied several thousand high quality power conversion units to major projects in Australia and overseas.

Managing director Masoud Abshar said: “We have been researching the markets in the UK and Europe. Despite the generally gloomy economic climate, we are confident that there is potentially a very large market for us.”
Abshar said he was excited at the prospect of returning to Birmingham where he lived for several years before moving to Australia, 20 years ago.

Abshar added: “I’ve long harboured an ambition to put something back into the community that put me on the road to success. I owe Birmingham so much – it is where I studied after leaving Iran as a teenager, it is where I gained my degree and where I met my wife. I still have many relatives in the city. I know it will be an excellent location for the new business.”

Starting with a workforce of ten skilled persons, the company intends to triple this number within three years. Abshar hinted that the company intends to recruit local qualified people who would be provided with the necessary training.

South Asia’s Own King of the Channel

My article published in the May 2009 issue of the Swimming Times (the official journal of the Amateur Swimming Association and the Institute of Swimming, Great Britain)

Fifty-one years after his first channel swim, Brojen Das remains South Asia’s greatest-ever swimmer and Bangladesh’s greatest sporting hero. Ijaz Chaudhry reports

South Asia’s Own King of the Channel

As we move towards the Great Channel Swim in August, it is appropriate to look back at one of the kings of the Channel. Brojen Das is South Asia’s greatest-ever swimmer and last year was the golden jubilee of the Bangladeshi’s first channel crossing. He remains his country’s greatest sporting hero and its only sportsperson of international recognition ­­­­­­; a small man (he was only 5ft 5in tall) from a country which has never come close to winning a swimming medal at even Asian level.

Brojen Das who died in 1998, was the first Asian to swim the Channel and the first person to cross it four times. In 1961, he also set a record for the fastest swim from France to England. He was easily the finest swimmer to come out of South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal ­­­­, a region home to more than a fifth of the world’s population.

Born on December 9, 1927, in the Kuchiamora village of Bikrampur, Munshiganj, in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), Brojen was an adept swimmer from his boyhood. The turbulent waters of the River Ganga (Buriganga) were his first training ground. He first distinguished himself as a short-course swimmer. In the East Pakistan competition in 1953, he made a clean sweep of the freestyle events, winning the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1500m. In 1955, Brojen became Pakistan’s national champion in the 100 and 200m freestyle. He even made Pakistan’s swimming squad for the 1956 Olympics before an arm injury suffered in an accident ruled him out.

Brojen’s transition to long-distance sea-swimming earned him immortality in the annals of the sport. He trained in the most turbulent part of the lower Megna river and his career took an upward turn when he got the opportunity to take part in the English Channel Competition in 1958. Seeing it as the chance of a lifetime, Brojen intensified his training. His confidence soared after he swam the 46 miles from Narayanganj to Chandpur. He also completed a 48-hour non-stop swim, covering about 60 miles in the Dhaka pool, and the Capri to Naples swim in the Mediterranean.

Brojen arrived in England in June 1958 for the Billy Butlin Channel event as the only contestant from South Asia. The swim began at midnight of August 18 and ended the following afternoon. Twenty-one of the 30 swimmers dropped out, mostly due to exhaustion, but Brojen continued undaunted to not only to secure the first position in the race but also became the first Asian ever to cross the channel.

He swam again the following year, bettering his time, and then crossed in the opposite direction. In 1960, he conquered the Channel for the third year running, though certain detractors, especially the press of his own country, termed it a ‘failure’ due to the slower timing of 14 hours 44 minutes compared with his best times of 13:26 (England to France) and 13:53 (France to England).

‘So I was under great pressure,’ said ‘Brojenda’, as he was popularly known. ‘The press in Pakistan had even started predicting that the Brojen era was about to end.’

The criticism served only to strengthen his resolve. He pledged that in 1961 he would not only better his own time but break the Channel record.

‘All these thoughts were with me when I jumped into the Channel on September 8 for the fifth time to try for a world record, ‘he recalled. ‘I had a good sea to begin with but encountered very rough sea towards the end, which robbed me of any chance of the record. I was very tired after swimming for 11 hours 48 minutes. It was my best-ever time yet I regarded it as a failure since my goal was the record. I decided to try again at the next neap tide. On September 21, within 12 days of my fifth swim, a record in itself, I plunged again. Nearly whole of Cap Griz Nez village turned out to wish me luck and see me enter the water for the sixth time.’

Before his first crossing in 1958, Brojen had told the Pakistan High Commissioner in London that if he was not successful, he would have to ‘drag a dead Brojen Das from the ‘Channel’. This same determination and single-mindedness was again evident in 1961 as Brojen completed his swim in 10 hours 35 minutes, breaking the 11-year-old record by 15 minutes. In fact, the swim produced two entries in the Guinness Book of Records, as a sixth swim was a record in itself.

Having achieved every possible distinction, Brojen Das bid the competitive arena adieu in 1961. Thereafter he coached and trained swimmers at home and abroad, including aspiring Channel swimmers. He also served as general secretary of the Bangladesh Swimming Federation and in 1976 received the national award from his government for his valuable contribution to sport. Other accolades included life membership of the Channel Swimming Association (1958) and King of the Channel title (1986); induction into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (1965); and vice-president of the World Long Distance Swimming Association (1964). Perhaps the greatest compliment came from Mohammad Ali. They met at the South Asian Games in 1985 and the boxing legend said: ‘You are the King of Channel and I am the King of Ring. But I think your achievement is even greater than mine.’

His death from cancer aged 71 sent shock waves through his country with president and prime minister sending condolences. His story is still taught in Bangladeshi schools.

A Sports Fanatic’s Sheffield

A Sheffield website www.artfullodger.co.uk advertised in October, 2006 that they needed articles to bolster Sheffield’s tourism. They initially asked for ideas. I suggested that I could prepare an article “A Sports Fanatic’s Sheffield” which would include introduction of Sheffield’s sports teams of various disciplines.

The idea was accepted and I sent the following piece (with photographs) which was very much appreciated.

The city of Sheffield is very well equipped to welcome a sports buff, new to the city. The town has a great sports culture and boasts top teams of almost all the major disciplines.


Let us start from the most popular sport of the globe. Sheffield has not one but two top league teams. Sheffield United (popularly called Blades) had a memorable last season which saw them promoted to the highest echelon of English soccer – the Premier League. The achievement was widely celebrated by the entire city. This also means that all the top names of English soccer like Chelsea, Manchester United, among others will be seen in action at the magnificent stadium at Bramall lane ( hardly 10 minutes walk from the train station) with a capacity of more than 30,000.

The Blades have a very fine website www.sufc.co.uk which contains the latest news as well as the info regarding match schedule, tickets, etc.

At the other end of the city, Hillsborough houses Sheffield Wednesday, the other great side of the town. Owls (as they are popularly called) are presently in the Championship, the second tier of English soccer.

Last season, almost the whole town had come to a standstill at the time of the two steel city derby games between the Blades and the Owls. Such is the rivalry!

Sheffield Wednesday’s website www.swfc.co.uk has all the details regarding match schedules and tickets.

Both these sides have a lot of international flavour and their roster not only has players from other European countries but also from as far as China and Barbados.

Sheffield United v Middlesbrough

Sheffield United’s Leigertwood jumping over an opponent in Blades victory over Middlesbrough this season in the Premier League at Bramall lane

The city also has the honour to have world’s oldest football club. Founded in 1857, Sheffield Football Club commonly referred to as simply Sheffield FC is a non-professional football club and currently plays in the Northern Premier League Division One South. It has been recognised by FIFA as the oldest football club now playing Association Football.


The promotion story of Sheffield teams is not restricted to soccer. Rugby league side, Sheffield Eagles have just won the National League 2 play off final on the 8th of October. Thus they join the National League 1 (tier two competition) for the next season, beginning early next year. The Eagles are a star studded outfit with several internationals from home countries and also from other major rugby powers like Australia and Fiji.

Having achieved the promotion, they expect to bolster their roster with more stars. Home games are at Don Valley stadium which is close to Meadow hall, one of the biggest shopping malls of the country.

For information about fixtures/schedules and tickets www.sheffield-rlfc.co.uk


Eagles celebrating!


For those of you, especially from North America or Northern Europe, favouring rink over the grassy pitch, Sheffield provides great attraction.

Sheffield Steelers is in the top 10 team “Elite” league of the UK. The Steelers have players not only from the European bastions of the sport like Scandinavian countries, Czech Republic , etc. but even from the USA and Canada.

They play at the magnificent Hallam FM arena which has one of the biggest capacities (over 7,000) for any ice hockey stadium in the country. The venue is again close to Meadow hall and also to Don Valley Stadium.

Web site: www.sheffieldsteelers.co.uk


Sheffield is lucky in this game also. Their team ‘Sharks’ is a part of the top tier 10 clubs’ British Basketball league (BBL). The championship runs from September to May.

Like NBA, the clubs operate on franchise basis with no relegation from the premier division.

Currently the Sharks have as many as three Americans, apart from three English internationals.

Their home turf is at the English Institute of Sports and web site: www.westfieldsharks.com


Sheffield is presently called the Home of Snooker. During the World Championships last year, it was announced that the World Championships would remain at city’s Crucible Theatre (right in the heart of the city centre) for at least next five years. This year was the first year of a five year deal.

Work also started this year on the creation of World Snooker Academy within English Institute of Sport – Sheffield (EISS). Funded by the Yorkshire Forward, the Academy will be home to the elite snooker players who will get coaching at the facility. It will also stage qualifying rounds of major professional competitions. The Academy was in fact incorporated into Sheffield’s successful bid to retain the 888.com World Snooker Championship for the next five years at the Crucible Theatre.

The first recorded competition in Sheffield was the Sheffield Open Snooker Championship, in 1924. Hence it preceded the World Championships by three years. The competition has been held every year since then, apart from the war years. It is one of the oldest continuous snooker tournaments in the world, possibly the oldest.

It was in 1977 that the World Snooker Championships moved to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, and the BBC started providing major television coverage. The Crucible provides a unique atmosphere to the tournament, both for the spectators and the live television viewers. The venue seats a little fewer than a thousand people with the front row of seats only a few feet from the players. This was about the time snooker started attracting very large television audiences, and The Crucible became synonymous with snooker.


Sheffield also hosts major sporting events at two gigantic indoor arenas:

  1. English Institute of Sports (www.eis-sheffield.co.uk)

In addition to ‘Sharks’ home games, this season EIS is home to

  • International Futsal game between England and France
  • National athletics meets
  • National judo championships
  • Badminton national juniors
  1. Ponds Forge International Sports Centre (www.ponds-forge.co.uk)
  • International Bowling
  • Swimming championships
  • Karate

60 Years after the First Battle: Curtain Raiser to the Olympic Hockey Qualifier

Published in the March 2008 issue of PUSH, the only independent print magazine on hockey in UK

Every sport has traditional national rivalries. In hockey, a mention of rivalry between India and Great Britain will surprise many but on further investigation it can be seen that it was perhaps the first real rivalry in this sport. As an added twist the rivalry took root when India was ruled by the British as a part of the British Empire.

Hockey was invented by the British who also dominated the sport in the early years. England won both the first two Olympics hockey competitions in 1908 and 1920. In 1928, when hockey became a permanent Olympic sport however India took over the domination of Olympic hockey, the magnitude of and the longevity of which can never be equaled. The issue is slightly muddled by the fact that GB did not compete in 1928, 1932 and 1936.

When the 1948 Olympics were held in London, GB returned to Olympic hockey. Hence the stage was set for arguably the greatest confrontation in the history of hockey until then. The two nations had not only shared all the previous Olympic titles but had not even lost a single match. For Indians, there was another incentive – their three previous golds were won under the Union Jack. Therefore the dream to see its own flag hoisted in pole position really motivated the team. In the final at the Wembley, India completely outplayed their former colonial masters, winning 4-0.

In 1952, Britain won bronze after defeat against India in the semis and for the next three decades, Britain remained on the fringes of international hockey and was never a serious medal contender. Remarkably, when GB found its renaissance in the 80s, India had gone into the wilderness from which they are yet to emerge.  Since the early 90s, both the nations are struggling to rejoin the higher echelon.

One does not need to be a hockey pundit to see that the Chile Olympic qualifier is a two horse race between these two countries. And the stakes are high – there are no more chances to gain entry to the Beijing Olympics in August.

For India, hockey is not only their national game but also the only discipline which has brought them gold at any Olympics. 2006 would go down as one of the worst years for Indian hockey.  They flopped miserably in all the title events: 11th in the World Cup, 6th in the Commonwealth games, and failure to reach the semis of the Asian games for the first time ever.

However, 2007 saw an effort to reinvigorate Indian hockey. There was a change of guard with Olympian Joaquim Carvalho appointed as the Chief Coach of the national team in March. His first test was the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament which featured all the top non-European teams. India finished a creditable third. In the Champions’ Challenge, they again finished third. Though these two results were encouraging, it was the least that was expected of them.

When India competed in the Asia Cup in September 2007, they retained their only title. The team displayed the stuff unseen for many years as they pulverised the opposition. India won all the pool games and a jam-packed Chennai stadium saw the most one sided final in the history of the Asia Cup as a rampant Indian team overwhelmed Korea 7-2. All seven were field goals and their tally of 57 goals was also a new tournament record.

Another happening which created the hockey fever in India was the release of the much awaited Bollywood flick ‘Chak de India’, the first ever hockey based Indian movie. The movie starring Shahrukh Khan, the Tom Cruise of Bollywood, was a huge success.

The background of the movie is the 1982 Asian Games final when India lost to arch rivals Pakistan 1-7. To compound the misery further, it was in the capital city of New Delhi with the rest of the nation following on TV. Goal keeper Negi was made the scapegoat. Negi was humiliated by press and public but later became a national hero when the Indian women team unexpectedly won the gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth games, with Negi as the assistant coach.

In a country where Bollywood is a passion, the success of the movie had a profound effect in raising the popularity of the game. There was a 20% increase in the manufacturing of hockey kits in India. The corporate groups, banks and even police had special showings for their workforce as a lesson in discipline, dedication, motivation and team spirit. More importantly, this translated into financial benefits as corporate sector’s interest in Premier Hockey League (PHL) also increased. The prize money is nearly double that of the last year and ESPN has bought the TV rights for next ten years at an annual cost of $4.25 million.

Another major development which should worry the team GB is the appointment of Australian Richard Charlesworth as the technical advisor for Indian hockey. An achiever par excellence, Charlesworth is one of the greatest players the game has ever known, a World Cup winner and Olympic silver medallist. Also a medical doctor, former Member of Parliament and first class cricketer. But his greatest accomplishments have been as the most successful coach in the history of women’s hockey. He guided the hockeyroos to two World Cup victories and an equal number of Olympic golds between 1994 and 2000. Author of two books on coaching, he was also the high performance manager for New Zealand Cricket board before this appointment.

Charlesworth’s appointment is linked to the very survival of hockey as an Olympic sport. Hockey is a discipline threatened by the desire of other sports to be included in the Olympic program. India has not only the best record in Olympics but is also one of only two countries where hockey is the official national sport. But more important factors are India’s population of one billion and its booming economy. All this has led the FIH to a firm belief that to survive as an Olympic sport, hockey has to flourish in India. For this, it is essential that India’s national team excels at the international scene. Apart from the gold at the 1980 Olympics, where almost all the big powers of hockey were absent, India has failed to reach even the semis of the Olympics or the World Cup in last 32 years.

Charlesworth’s brief is as a technical advisor and as such he will be associated with both the men and women teams, senior as well as junior. For the Olympic qualifier, he himself said “I will be as closely involved as my time allows me and as the coaches allow me to be.” Very recently, he expressed the view that the fortunes of Indian hockey can’t be revived overnight and it would need at least five years before the team can be counted among world’s top three outfits.

Chak de, Charlesworth, Champions of Asia all means that Indians can never be more geared for the Olympics qualifiers in Chile in March.

In the other corner, Great Britain is also under great pressure for more than one reason. The women have already qualified, London is host in 2012 and, among the team sports, hockey has received the highest financial backing from the UK Sport over last twelve months. Unlike India, Great Britian/England did not have a good 2007, especially considering that England had attained a very creditable fifth position in the 2006 world cup. In 2007, the biggest disappointment was a disappointing fifth position in the Euro Nations at home which also threw them into the quagmire of the Olympics’ qualifiers. They also did not do well at the end of the year, finishing sixth in the Champions trophy.

Only silver lining looking towards the qualifier is that they did not lose to any of the three Asian sides present there, at the Champions trophy: drawing with Korea and beating Pakistan and Malaysia. However, England lost both its 2007 ties against India which were in the June’s Champions’ Challenge though by the barest of the margins.

Having taken all the above considerations as well as the World rankings into account (England is one rung above India), it is difficult to predict the winner. There is not much to choose from the two and ultimately it will be the performance on the day that would decide the fate of the two.

60 years after that London confrontation, Chile promises a spicy duel.

Once upon a time, Pakistan did have world class athletes

World Athletics Championships were recently held in the Japanese city of Osaka. 1078 athletes (1050 male and 928 female) from 200 countries participated. As many as 46 of these 200 nations won at least one medal. Pakistan also had token representation of one male and one female athlete who got eliminated in the first heat. Both did not have to qualify as every country is given one wild card entry each in men and women.

It might seem unbelievable to most of us but there was a time when Pakistan athletics had world class performers.

That was about half a century ago, in fifties and early sixties. One would immediately point out that Pakistan has never won an Olympic medal in track & field. It is pertinent to mention that in those days, Olympics were the only stage where athletes from all parts of the world used to compete against each other. The world athletics championships only started in 1983 and there were no grand prix athletics meets either.

Yes, we have never won an athletics medal at Olympics. However, in that era not one or two but a number of Pakistani athletes produced “WORLD CLASS PERFORMANCES”

Subedar Abdul Khaliq was the fastest man of Asia winning the 100 metres twice in Asian games (1954 & 1958). Short but beautifully muscled, Khaliq excelled at Olympics as well. In the 1956 Olympiad, Khaliq was at the peak of his sprinting. He reached the semifinals of both 100 and 200 metres. And narrowly missed qualification for the final in both the sprint events. His best timing in 100 metres was 10.4 seconds equivalent to that of the last Olympics (1952) gold medal winner. In 200 metres, his performance was even more astonishing. He won both the first two rounds clocking 21.1 seconds. Unfortunately, Khaliq failed to repeat the same time in the semi final. In fact, 21.1 seconds was the best timing for all the rounds except that in the final.

These achievements placed him in top seven sprinters of the time.

Similarly Ghulam Raziq was a world class hurdler who won every honour other than an Olympic medal. He collected two golds and a silver in his three Asiad appearances (1958, 62 & 66). In addition, he won gold at Commonwealth games (1962), an honour which even eluded Khaliq.

Long limbed Raziq had ideal physical attributes for a hurdler- speed, agility and suppleness.

Raziq too shone at the Olympics, reaching the semifinals in 1956 and 1960 Olympiads.

Then there was the giant figure of Mohammad Iqbal, the hammer thrower. Iqbal won a complete set of medals- gold, silver and bronze in this three Asiad appearances (1954, 58 and 62). In more competitive environs of Commonwealth games (especially in those days), he won gold in 1954 followed by silver in the next edition, four years later.

He too distinguished himself at the biggest stage by finishing at 10th place in the Melbourne Olympics of 1956.

Another great Pakistani athlete who attained remarkable heights in throwing events was Mohammad Nawaz whose event was javelin. Like Raziq and Iqbal, he too won medals in three consecutive Asian games. In fact, Nawaz narrowly failed to achieve a hat trick of Asiad golds. Having won the title in both the previous editions, he was narrowly beaten to second place in the 1962 Asian games. Nawaz’s Asian record stood for about two decades! At the Commonwealth Games, he won a silver in 1954 and at the Olympics, Nawaz attained a creditable 13th position in 1956.

The saga is not restricted to sprints, hurdles or throwing. Pakistan also produced a remarkable long distance athlete by the name of Mubarak Shah. He achieved a distinction which no Pakistani sportsman (in any discipline) has ever succeeded to do- winning two golds in a single Asiad. In 1962, Shah won the 3000 metres steeple chase as well as the 5000 metres, creating a new Asian record in both. He also had a good chance in the 10,000 metres as well but the tight schedule forced him to withdraw from that event. Add to this, the steeple chase gold at 1958 Asiad and Mubarak has another unique record for a Pakistani i.e. three individual Asiad golds.

Once again to emphasise the magnitude of their achievements: How would it be to have a Pakistani tennis player in world’s top 7-12 rankings? Won’t it be awesome? Yes. Khaliq, Raziq, Nawaz and Iqbal attained comparable status. Track and field has always been the number one attraction of the Olympics. The world athletics championships are the most followed sporting event after Olympics and soccer world cup. Athletics is called ‘mother of all the sports’ as human has been running, jumping and throwing right from the first days of mankind.

However after the era of these ‘golden five’, Pakistan failed to produce a real world class athlete. A couple of them did shine at Asian level. Mohammad Younis (1500 metres), in fact, performed consistently well – winning silver, gold and silver in the 1970, 74 and 78 Asiads. Then Ghulam Abbas (400 m hurdles) won gold in the 1990 Asian games. But neither of them could even go beyond first round in Olympics/World championships or even Commonwealth games.

So what was special about the athletes of fifties and early sixties?

They were all army soldiers. They all came from Potohar area of the Punjab. They were lucky to have a mentor like Brigadier Rodham who ensured proper coaching as well as regular international competition for them. But perhaps more importantly they were all primarily kabaddi players before joining army. Kabaddi, the traditional sport of villages of the Punjab, is regarded by many as the nearest thing to a complete sport. It builds all the major attributes-speed, stamina and strength plus the vital killer instinct.

Will Pakistan be able to produce world class athletes in future?

Athletics is one sporting discipline which does not require many resources. Poor countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are major athletic powers.

In Kenya, in sixties, the European priests were amazed to observe that the local children daily walked and ran miles on hills to reach the school. They thought about utilizing this immense stamina of poor children into something really beneficial. Hence they devised the plan to groom these kids as long distance runners. The rest is history. Kenya has been a dominating force in distance running for last four decades.

Hence all that is required is concerted efforts in the areas of identifying talent and then putting it through paces by providing proper training and suitable competition.

The task is difficult but not impossible.

Milkha Singh — The Flying Sikh

Published in THE NEWS (A leading English language Pakistani daily) on 07/07/13

The Bollywood movie ‘Bhag Milkha Bhag’ hitting the world screens in a few days depicts the life of the legendary Indian athlete Milkha Singh, who was fourth in the 400 metres at the 1960 Olympics. The Milkha saga is tailor made for the celluloid.

He was eleven when made to run for his life. Having seen his parents and other relatives slain in front of him in the aftermath of the partition in 1947 in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, then called Lyallpur, Milkha escaped to India by hanging onto a Delhi-bound train. After roaming the streets of Delhi for a few years and doing menial jobs, Milkha joined the Indian Army, a decision that changes his life. Sports have always been an essential part of the army routine. The young Sikh soon discovered that short distance running, 400 and 200 metres, was his forte. Soon he was the best in his unit.

In a big services meet, Milkha saw some athletes who had India written on their vests. On his enquiry, he was told, “These army men have been representing India in international meets as they are the national champions in their respective events.”

That day Milkha set his sights on earning an India vest. He got fully focused. Every day, he ran for hours. If due to duty commitments he couldn’t find time during the day, he practised during night. Fellow soldiers would keep the dinner.

Within a couple of years, he had broken the national records for both 400 & 200 metres and Milkha was representing his country in the biggest event.

At the 1956 Olympics, Milkha got eliminated in the first round and felt out of place. He said afterwards, “The clear superiority of the others shocked me but at the same time it inspired me.”

He gathered courage to ask American Charles Jenkins, the winner of the 400 metres, for guidance. “He was nice enough to write a training schedule for me.”

From then onwards, Milkha concentrated on his next goal — to excel at the international stage. His preparation included unconventional methods. The determined boy ran on the hills and on the sands of the river. He trained so vigorously that sometimes the training schedule would end up with Milkha vomiting blood.

He fully arrived at the international athletics’ scene at the 1958 Asian games. Milkha first won the 400 m, creating a new Asian record. Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq, also a Punjabi soldier, retained his 100 m title.

Now both were eyeing the 200m. An added incentive was the title of the best athlete of the Asiad 1958; one has to win at least two individual golds. Khaliq led the field all the way with Milkha just behind him. Just short of the finish line, Milkha made a sort of a dive and flung himself ahead of Khaliq to win the 200 m race and was declared the continent’s best athlete in the bargain.

The golden run continued. A few weeks later, Milkha triumphed again, at an even more competitive field — the Commonwealth Games. He beat a world class field to win the 400m — till date the only gold won by a male Indian athlete at the Commonwealth Games.

Next he set sight at the 1960 Olympics — his ultimate aim. In the year in between, Milkha competed in numerous meets in Europe, winning almost all of them. He was also awarded America’s Helms trophy for being the best 400m runner of 1959.

Milkha was in the form of his life at the Rome Olympics in 1960. He easily went through the preliminaries to reach the semi-final. The field at the Rome Olympics is widely acknowledged as the finest gathering of the 400m runners. In the lead up to the event, Milkha had beaten all of them with the exception of American Otis Davis.

In his semi-final, Milkha was second only to Davis. Most of the pundits predicted silver for him in the final. But Milkha had gold in his mind and that was how he started.  He made a flying start and after 250 metres, he was ahead of the rest. At that moment he did something which he deeply regrets even today. Milkha thought he was going at too fast a pace and might fizzle out towards the end. He slowed down a bit and even glanced back a little. That fraction of a second made all the difference; one by one, three went past Milkha. “I desperately tried to catch up at least with the man in the third place, the South African Spence, who I had beaten at the Commonwealth Games. As the race ended, we apparently finished equal.”

The announcement of the result was withheld for sometime as the official photo finish was awaited. Unfortunately, Milkha was fourth with the South African just edging him for the bronze.

Still, Milkha had broken the Olympics record — such was the strength of the field that day: the first two bettered the world record and the third and the fourth going past the Olympic record.

Milkha remains the only South Asian athlete to break an Olympic record.

But this was a scant consolation. Milkha remained immersed in sorrow for days. Even today this brings tears in his eyes.

His son Jeev Milkha, the highest ranked Indian golfer in the world, says, “Father is going to die with this regret at the back of his mind.”

He came out of it in the only way he could; competing in the meets again. He was good enough to retain the 400 m gold at the Asian Games of 1962. Farhan Akhtar plays the role of Milkha in the movie. He worked tirelessly for almost two years to get into the lean and muscular figure for the role and also to develop a running style akin to that of the great athlete.

Sonam Kapoor is the lead lady who portrays Milkha’s first girlfriend inspiring him to join army. He also had a little flirt with an Australian female athlete.

Pakistani actress Meesha Shaafi also acts in the movie.

The movie has beautiful tracks in the voice of luminous singers including Diyya Kumar, Shreya Ghosal, Daler Mehndi and our own Arif Lohar.

Milkha hopes the movie will inspire the youth to excel at sports in general and athletics in particular. One expects the Pakistani youth is also motivated by the fascinating tale of South Asia’s greatest male athlete who was not only born in this country but also got his most popular title — ‘the Flying Sikh’ — here.

Cricketers as role models

Published in Pakistan Today on 28/8/11

Young age, especially the school time, is the most impressionable period in a person’s life. A child always looks for role models who could be among his peers, teachers, etc. but quite often, they idolise sports icons. At the same time, these stars are looked upon to display righteous character. If involved in some turpitude they are no longer considered role models. All over the world, sportspersons enjoy cult status. In our part of the world, cricket is the most followed sport by a mile. Kids simply adore star cricketers. So no surprise that cricketers are often invited as chief guests at the sports functions of educational institutions.

The other day, on television, I was taken aback to see former Pakistan captain Salman Butt at an annual sports day of a school. Moreover, the channel also aired his views about the function. Everyone knows that Salman Butt was involved in the spot-fixing case in the Test match during Pakistan’s tour of England last year. Initially, he was suspended from playing international cricket. After the ICC investigation and hearing, he was banned from the sport of cricket for 10 years. In fact, of the three banned players, charges proved against Salman were most heinous: ordering Amir and Asif to bowl no- balls in the fourth Test.

This scribe was in England when this episode of spot-fixing surfaced. Being a sports journalist, my views about the news were sought by so many of my acquaintances; not only the Pakistanis but also by the English as well as the Indians there. It was a humiliating experience to say the least. Former Pakistani Test cricketer, Wazir Mohammad, the eldest of the famous Mohammad brothers and one of the pioneers of Pakistan cricket, has been living in England for more than four decades. He reflected in a very depressed tone,” Bhai, it has become difficult even to step outside the home. Everyone in the vicinity knows me and I am invariably asked to comment on this spot-fixing saga.” Cricket is more or less an unknown commodity in the USA, yet this incident was in the sports headlines even there. Indeed, this shameful episode has disgraced Pakistan all over the world.

Salman Butt, now proven guilty, who should not have a place to hide in Pakistan, is still being treated as a national star. First, during the cricket World Cup 2011, he was there at a noted TV channel regularly giving expert comments. Then he has been appearing on a fashion channel telling his choices for apparel for different seasons and functions.

But this is too much: VIP guest at a school children’s function.

Pakistan artistry helps fuel football success

I picked up something that was being reported in the news (German national team soccer Coach Klinsman thought about hiring national hockey coach) and my following feature grew out of it. I had read a passing mention about it some where. For details, I contacted Abdul Waheed Khan in Pakistan. Published in World Hockey April 2006 (Online Issue 32)

While speculation earlier this year linked German hockey coach Bernhard Peters to a post in football, the connection between the sports dates back almost 20 years when Argentina’s football manager Cesar Luis Menotti became intrigued by Pakistan’s sublime technical skills.

The year was 1978 and the place Argentina. That year, Argentina was host to two World Cups: Hockey in March/April and soccer in June.

Throughout the Hockey World Cup, a wonderful Pakistan team managed by Abdul Waheed Khan displayed a breathtaking attacking game which captivated crowds and connoisseurs alike.

During their victorious campaign, the green shirts created several records:
1. The first team to capture the World Cup without losing (or even drawing) a single match
2. Pakistan’s goal difference of 31 goals (35 for and four against) remains a World Cup record
3. Their total of 35 goals was also a new high for a single edition of a World Cup (only to be bettered by Pakistan itself in the next World Cup).

Records aside, it was the style and manner in which they pulverised all defences which endeared them to all.

According to their manager Waheed Khan, Pakistan’s attacking strategy was based upon concept of double attack – if a move from right side failed then they made all the possible efforts to immediately initiate a move from left side on the assumption that most of the opponents’ defence had become concentrated on the right side, and vice versa.

Midway through the Hockey World Cup, on a rest day, Waheed Khan was informed that the manager of Argentine soccer team, Menotti, had arrived on his personal plane to see him. The Argentine chain-smoking coach always favoured a stylish, attacking game based on skill and technique.

Menotti wanted to discuss in detail with Waheed, the tactics to penetrate packed defences. He watched a training session of Pakistan team with Waheed. He (Waheed) explained to Menotti his strategy of ‘double attack’, as well as the ‘use of wingers’ whenever it becomes difficult to override the opposition through the middle. He watched a training session of Pakistan team with Waheed.

“I explained to him how it all worked in practice. He noted a few points and then left the ground. The rest is history.” said Waheed.

Argentina went on to win the Soccer World Cup for the first time. And Menotti sent Waheed a telegram acknowledging that the Pakistan hockey team’s ploys had come in very handy to him.


My round up of the British Junior Open 2008 published in Squash Player (the official magazine of World Squash Federation) in its Issue 2 of 2008

The British Junior Open is widely, and rightly, regarded as the most prestigious international squash tournament for juniors. All the current top five ranked men players have been past winners of a title here, as has Nicol David. It was also the year opener, staged from 2-6 January, as always, at Sheffield’s famous Abbbeydale and Hallamshire courts.

More than 450 players from 34 countries in all parts of the globe participated in the 2008 Tecnifibre British Junior Open which as in recent years was again dominated by Egyptian players. In fact, it was a case of deja-vu, as they won six titles for the third consecutive year. In the boys’ events, the Egyptians made a clean sweep, winning all the four titles (with such a conveyer belt, their current domination of men’s ranking seems unstoppable for the foreseeable future), while their girls won two. There were as many as 11 of them in the finals – a tournament record. The Mediterranean wave meant that four of the eight finals were all Egyptian affairs and there was only one final with no Egyptian contender. Five Egyptians entered the draws in each section, a total of 40 (though one was unable to come due to injury) and most of the parents also accompanied their kids. Little wonder that the ambience was that of Cairo or Alexandria rather than Sheffield.

The star of the show was Mohammad El Shorbagy, the 16 year old winner of the Boys’ Under 19. Presently based in England under the tutelage of the legendary Jonah Barrington, and favourite for the title, Shorbagy achieved a hat trick, winning his third title here in as many years. What makes the feat unique is that he won a different age group each time. But the man who was seeded to face him in the final, Switzerland’s European champion Nicolas Mueller was ousted in straight sets in the second round by Shorbagy’s compatriot Wael Farag – a major early round upset.

The only ‘non-Egyptian final’, the Girls’ U 19 turned out to be the most dramatic. Last year’s runner up and this year’s favourite, Camille Serme of France, the European champion rallied from two games down to overpower the 2nd seeded Annie Au of Hong Kong, the Asian champion.

Already a WISPA top 30 player, Serme carries the French squash federation’s hopes of producing a women’s champion to follow the footsteps of Theiry Lincou and Gregory Gaultier – some progress for a nation which did not even have a national squash federation until 1981.

The Girls’ U 17 final was another thrilling spectacle – and another five game duel, India’s charming Deepika Pallikar seeded 5/8 upset top-seeded Egyptian Heba Torky who was just one match away from her fifth consecutive title here.

Incidentally, Palliker tasted her first title success also on her fifth appearance. Living and training in Egypt for last few years, she promises to become the Sania Mirza of Indian women squash.

The Boys’ U 17 final followed the same script as that of Girls, 5/8 seeded Karim Abdel Gamad, surprising his top seeded compatriot Amr Khalid Khalifa. And as in the Boys’ U 19, the 2nd seed at U 17, Pakistan’s Farhan Zaman made an early (third round) exit. However Khalifa’s younger brother atoned for the family disappointment and produced the most shocking result of all the finals. Seeded only 9/16 in the Boys’

U 13, he thrashed the top seeded fellow Egyptian, Shehab Essam in straight games.

The Boys’ U 15 final featured former squash super power, Pakistan’s lone finalist, Nasir Iqbal. Winner of the U13 title last year, he proved no match to Al Fathi, himself a former winner of the U13 title in 2006.

The finals of the Girls’ U15 and U13 were all Egyptian affairs. El Sherbany retained her U 13 crown. El Tayeb, also a previous winner of the U13 title, back in 2004, successfully moved up to U15.

After Egypt, the distant second was France, the only other country to provide two finalists, each in the senior most events i.e. the Boys’ U19 and the Girls’ U19 (which Serme won).

It was astonishing not to find a single finalist from the host country, despite its having a huge presence. More surprising since only a few weeks previously, England had won the Men’s world team championships. Perhaps, English boys mature a bit late. But there was some consolation as four English lads made it into the semis including two at U 19. Even English presence had an Egyptian flavour as England’s participant in the Girls’ U 17, Nayera Sharif is of Egyptian decent.

Though they had no representation in the last four, South Africa had the highest participation after England and Egypt with 20. Most of them had borne their own expenses, which speaks loudly for their youngsters’ enthusiasm.

Malaysia and Hong Kong also had strong representation but they were more fortunate to have the financial support of their governments and squash federations. Malaysia had a Pakistani coach and a more interesting Pakistani connection. Kamran Khan, son of legendary Jansher Khan and his former Malaysian wife reached the third round at U19. Kamran has been regularly coming to this event for last few years. According to him, he has had no contact with his father for last many years.

For Pakistan itself, as on the senior circuit, fortunes continue to plummet. In fact, it was their worst show here in years with just one runner up position to take home. On the other hand, its big neighbour, India is continuing its gradual progress. India had a reasonably big contingent, most of them sponsored and the winner of the Girls’ U17 event, Dipika Pillai is an exciting prospect who should do well at senior level in the near future.

It was shock to find a ‘token’ appearance for the mega squash nation, Australia: two males and just one girl. However, on deeper analysis the reasons were simple. There is no patronage for junior Aussies from any quarters and their geographical location means big travel expenses to any European event. These factors mean almost no participation in international junior circuit. The same was the case with New Zealand, and for exactly the same reasons.

Most gratifyingly, the world’s premier junior squash tournament had a truly global look, with players even from countries with little squash pedigree such as Columbia, Trinidad and Tobago and Israel

.My round up of the British Junior Open 2008 published in Squash Player (the official magazine of World Squash Federation) in its Issue 2 of 2008

The 2008 Tecnifibre British Junior Open was very well organised with initial rounds at Hallamshire and Abbeydale courts with finals only staged at latter. It was very well covered by the official website www.bjosquash.com which also provided excellent photos and slideshows as well as history of the event.

It was the first year of England Squash’s three- year event sponsorship agreement with Tecnifibre. The tournament director, Chris Nutley, Competition and Events Manager, England Squash, was also grateful to the Event Unit of Sheffield City Council, especially for running a regular and frequent transport shuttle service between the hotels where players were staying and the two squash clubs.

In a few years, all those fortunate to be present at the magnificent Abbeydale courts on the final day will be proudly relating that they watched the current world squash champion lifting a British Junior Open title – most probably an Egyptian.