Shahbaz Ahmad is a legendary Pakistan hockey player who starred in 11 editions of the Hockey Champions Trophy, captaining his country for six of those events, including Pakistan’s gold medal campaign in 1994.
Ahmad is the current Secretary General of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) and hockey journalist Ijaz Chaudhry caught up with him on behalf of FIH to hear the Pakistan Olympian’s memories of the hugely competitive event.
“The Champions Trophy holds very fond memories for me,” says Ahmad. “I had made my international debut in the bilateral series versus India in February 1986 but my first big event was the Champions Trophy in April that year in Karachi.”
And the self-professed ‘skinny 19-year-old’ made an immediate impression as he played defence-carving passes and generally caused mayhem within the opposition’s ranks with his mesmerising skills.
At that first event, the then president of Pakistan, General Ziaul Haq was in the crowd. He was overheard telling Air Marshal Waqar Azeem, the President of the PHF, to award the youngster a gold medal and a buffalo, so he could drink plenty of milk and fill out a little.
Their 1994 Champions Trophy victory was the catalyst towards their World Cup triumph later that year in which captain Shabaz played an influential role as they beat Netherlands in the final. All six nations competing in this year’s Champions Trophy will be hoping to follow in their footsteps as they build momentum towards the Odisha Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 which begins in November.
Pakistan’s ties with the Champions Trophy are deeply ingrained. The event was introduced by Air Marshal Nur Khan, a former president of the PHF; the trophy was donated by the PHF; and Pakistan have hosted the event 11 times during its history. The Green Shirts also won the first two editions.
“The Hockey Pro League has all the potential to be the game changer for hockey. But hopefully, the last edition of the Champions Trophy will be a memorable one”
Shabaz Ahmen, Former Pakistan Captain and current Secretary General
Although Ahmad enjoyed a long career with his national side, representing Pakistan from 1986 to 2002, one year stands out above the rest. “The year 1994 holds special importance in Pakistan hockey’s history. We had not been able to win a big title since 1984 (Pakistan won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games).
“For the 1994 Champions Trophy in Lahore, preparations were made in earnest. For the first time Pakistan hired a foreign coach, Holland’s Hans Jorritsma. Video analysis was employed. It paid off as we won the 16th Champions Trophy. Our people expected more. The momentum was carried on and Pakistan, under my captaincy, went on to lift the World Cup later that year.”
Ahmad has broken a few records along the way to securing a place in Champions Trophy history. He has made more appearances at the Champions Trophy than any other Pakistan player. He captained the side to six Champions Trophies and picked up two silvers and three bronze medals to accompany the 1994 gold medal. The left-sided midfielder was also voted Player of the Tournament twice – the only Pakistan player to achieve that honour.
But as Secretary General of the PHF, Ahmad is pragmatic enough to see that the Champions Trophy has come to its natural end.
“Things move in every sphere of the life. The annual event became biennial in 2012, to accommodate the Hockey World League. Now, with the advent of the high profile annual starting next year, there will be no window for the Champions Trophy. The Champions Trophy and Hockey World League has evolved into the HPL. The HPL has all the potential to be the game changer for hockey. But hopefully, the last edition of the Champions Trophy will be a memorable one.”
As befits the nation where it all began, Pakistan will open the final edition of the Rabobank Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy, Breda against long-term continental rivals India.