ISLAMABAD - Olympian Kamran Ashraf has said that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has been working on right lines to find and groom the fresh talent into quality stuff.

Former Pakistan hockey player and winner of 1994 world cup Kamran Ashraf, who is junior team camp commandant, expressed these views during an interview with The Nation. He said: “Junior players are future of Pakistan hockey. In the past, no heed was paid on development of junior players, which cost Pakistan hockey dearly, otherwise, there was never any dearth of hockey talent in the country.”

He said he had played for national team from 1990 till 2002. “I have played in two world cups, two Olympics, seven Champions Trophies, Asian Games and Asia Cup, beside playing in number of international matches and tournaments for Pakistan. I won 1994 world cup, when the great Shahbaz Senior was the captain. It was golden year for Pakistan hockey as we bagged a lot of titles during 1994. But after that, sharp decline was witnessed not because of lack of youth interest in hockey, but because of no planning and less priorities on hunting fresh talent. But the current PHF top brass has been making sincere efforts to groom young talent.”

He said: “I have done three FIH coaching courses from Madrid, Lahore and Malaysia and mainly worked on enhancing skills deficiency. During the recently-concluded 1st U-18 National Hockey Championship, I have witnessed that we have tremendous talent available but they lack in skills, otherwise, they are too good. I have accepted this assignment of working with U-18 players as a challenge and remained at the venue for several hours, watched not one or two but at least 40 players, who are more than capable of making it to the senior side, but after proper coaching and enhancing skills.”

Kamran said, I had worked with juniors and now I had around 140 U-18 players with me in the camp, the full-fledge camp will start from Sunday, for the last two days we are training in two sessions, morning and evening, but after 17th, three-days training we will short list players and would keep around 80 players for the rest of the camp, our main task is Junior U-18 Asia Cup in Dhaka in September, Junior Olympics and then the main Junior World Cup expected to be held in 2019, I had enough time to train the players and get best out of them.

He said the PHF idea of conducting 5-a-side event was a mega success. “Firstly, not a single penny of the federation was involved, as OGDCL singed sponsorship agreement and gave federation a handsome amount of Rs 10 million and secondly, we were able to hunt fresh talent. The private sponsors like OGDCL should step forward and lend a helping hand to the PHF, as they are very serious in taking Pakistan hockey back to old glory days, but for that, we have to rely very less on government for finances and have to generate funds through our own means.

“If product is good and the players will provide desired results, I am sure the sponsors will contact the federation and we will be able to generate substantial amount. I strongly believe the players should be provided best facilities and jobs so that they may focus on only playing rather than thinking about earning bread and butter,” he added.

To a query regarding age issue of the players, Kamran said: “Firstly, we have informed all the players to bring their B forms, secondly, we will verify their data through our own sources, update a profile and then will take help from NADRA in this regard.”

To another query regarding pathetic condition of Naseer Bunda Hockey Stadium astroturf, Kamran said: “I have not witnessed anything wrong in the astroturf, as no major injury was witnessed in the U-18 championship. Yes the astroturf is old and there is sand in the corners, but it can be cleared as the PSB has promised to neat and clean the stadium. But I strongly recommend that the astroturf must be changed as soon as possible, as it will make it the perfect place where national camps should be easily established. We get best available facilities and weather here in Islamabad while the accommodation and meal is also of top quality. Only major hurdle is astroturf, if it is changed, we will easily start senior and junior camps on regular basis,” Kamran concluded.