Hockey Olympian Shahnaz Sheikh — The unstoppable forward
With Pakistan’s obsession with cricket these days, the national sport hockey has been relegated to the background in recent years due to the team’s poor showing in major events and favoutism and nepotism reigning unhindered in the Pakistan Hockey Federation. Pakistan hockey remained up in the clouds for more than three decades. Pakistan won Olympic gold thrice, World Cup four times, Asia Cup thrice, Asian Games gold record eight times, Asian Champions Trophy gold twice, FIH Champions Trophy gold thrice and remained unbeatable at regional level for many years. Pakistan hockey produced many legends who took the game to new heights. Shahnaz Sheikh, arguably, is among the top 10 Pakistan hockey players of all time. Born in Sialkot on March 21, 1949, Shahnaz, a forward, played between 1969 and 1978. He was capped 68 times and scored 45 goals for the Pakistan national hockey team. He won silver in 1972 and bronze in 1976 Olympics. Shahnaz won the 1971 World Cup and was runner-up in 1975 and won again in 1978. Shahnaz was one of the most skilled hockey players that Pakistan has produced. At the same time, Shahnaz was also an explosive player who stood tall among his contemporaries and would have easily walked into any field hockey side in the world.
Having been given a feminine name, that was the only soft thing about him as he was a marauder on the left wing, and played an ‘inner’ to Samiullah Khan during the later part of his career. He ran shivers down the spines of opposition defences with his tremendous ball control and situational awareness. To opposing teams, he was a nemesis, virtually unstoppable on his day and more than a handful on several other occasions.
In the early 1970s, he was the most acrobatic Pakistan forward and by the mid 1970s, he had become such a force that his absence from the field through injury was a major cause of the Green shirts’ narrowly losing two high-profile matches: the 1975 Hockey World Cup final against India at Kuala Lumpur and the 1976 Montreal Olympics against Australia in the semis. On both occasions, Pakistan went down 2-1 in controversial circumstances. Shahnaz also had a ‘good hockey head’ over his shoulders. One lasting impression of him was his rather brief stint as coach of the Pakistan junior team, in which Pakistan won the Junior Asia Cup. He also remained coach for the Singapore hockey team from 1980-82. Shahnaz served as Pakistan national team coach twice but stepped down after disappointing performance by the national team. He received the Pride of Performance Award in 1990 from the President of Pakistan.
Published in Daily Times, July 23rd , 2017.