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Hockey itself is dangerous, why to pin down drag f (1/28/2005)
--s2h team
Sohail Abbas has special feelings about India. The world's highest scorer who overtook Paul Litjens, another penalty corner expert from the Netherlands, missed the first match of the PHL but is committed to the Hyderabad Sultans team. As promised he arrived in time for the second match but the team failed to provide him any short-corner. Then in the second game yesterday, he scored his first goal from the first chance he got that showcased his skills to the vociferous crowd, who came to cheer the home team. Sohail was a big hit in the city and whenever, he had the ball the crowd's decibel level increased. He is very popular in this Hindi-speaking heartland of hockey in Andhra Pradesh.

Sohail was forced to withdraw from his resignation after the Pakistan federation goaded him to continue playing for the country for some more time. He is a great friend of Wasim Ahmed and the two combination during the short corners has done wonders for the success of Pakistan hockey. In fact, one of the demands of Sohail before coming to India for PHL, was that both of them should be in the same team. Wasim stops the ball for Sohail and both of them were involved in a long partnership. Sohail was also a good cricket player and he is a great fan of Pakistani cricketer Waseem Akram and an admirer of India's Irfan Pathan.

I took up hockey at a very late stage professionally though I played at my school, Habeeb Public School in Karachi. It was only at the age of 17, I took the game seriously and missed the junior level. I made my debut at the India-Pak series in 1998 and I scored a goal in my first game at the home match in Rawalpindi. I did not realise my strong points initially, but when my rivals started fearing me, I worked hard on my drag flicks. I have been in and out of the National team, but the interest in drag flick came from within. I did a lot of work and was very keen to develop my defending skills since the rule changed and the substitution during penalty corners was stopped. I was out of Commonwealth Games squad during that time, but I did dedicated work to make a strong comeback.

I did a lot of physical fitness with a strict regimen of weight training and lot of practice. I used to do hundreds of flicks and used to closely watch the videos of Bram Lomans drag flicks. Later on I realised, it is more of a mental game. So I started working on mental fitness along with physical fitness. That is when I learnt the knack of reading the goalkeepers. Now it a one-up game between goalkeepers and drag-flickers. During the Athens Olympics, your Adrian D'Souza was good. He was very fast and surprised me initially. But later on he became so predictable and it was easier to sort him out.

This PHL is good for Asian hockey. Both the federations should become more professional. They should stop this bias towards regions. Sometimes it affects good hockey. Now we need all the 16 players in full fitness. With the rolling substitution there is no chance for any weak palyer to be in the team. See for the Afro Asian games, I did not come here because I thought I will give a chance to the younger players to come up. But back home, I was criticised badly. These sort of attitude should change. Both our federations should have a positive attitude towards the game. Then only hockey will come back.

On Dangers of drag flick he said, "See the game of hockey is itself very dangerous. You have very high ball speeds. There are a lot of fast movements. But generally, hockey players' reaction time is fast. Accidents do happen but removing drag flicks will take the beauty out of the game. It is one of the better skills we have. Accidents happen everyday on the road. See Michael Schumacher. F1 survives and enjoys good viewership despite the dangers invovled. So the need of the hour is to make the sport more safe but changing the rules to stop the flicks is no solution.

As far as the rules are concerned, there is no point cribbing about them. We have to master them. See we also have our men in the rules board. But nothing is happening. I would suggest that we conduct more clinics and educate our players, coaches, umpires and officials about the rules. That is a better way to tackle them since experts are readily available.

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