Abdul Hannan Shahid, the AHF Emerging Player in 2023, has had a mixed start to the Asian Champions Trophy.
While his goal nearly won Pakistan the three points against Korea, his inexperience, erratic decision-making, and lack of composure have come to the fore too.
But Hannan is not afraid to take on a defender or go for an audacious pass. That is why he is fun to watch.
Hannan was meant to be a hockey player. Nature and nurture contrived for him to become one.
Nature took its course when Afzal Manna won the silver at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics with Pakistan. The medal set an example in the family, and 10 members followed suit.
Sarwar and Anwar Jamshed were the first to pick up the stick, looking up to their elder brother. Manna’s sons - Zahid and Mujahid Afzal - and nephews - Mohammad Yaqoob, Mohammad Shahid, and Ghulam Ghous - became the second generation of hockey players from the family.
Hannan, son of Shahid, and Azfar and Murtaza Yaqoob are the current crop. All three have played for Pakistan.
The sport is in their blood.
Nurture started shaping Hannan slightly later.
Hockey a part of dinner-table conversations
Naturally, hockey was a part of dinner-table conversations. That he had hockey for breakfast and lunch too would be a humourous take.
His family runs the Pak Hero’s Hockey Club in Lahore, where Hannan was taken to begin his moulding process.
“I started going to the ground with my cousins and my dad when I was four. I got on the school team. In 2019, I was the best player in the junior championships,” says Hannan.
Hannan progressed in leaps and bounds. The junior championship paved the way for entry to the national camp, and two years later, Hannan took the flight to Bhubaneswar for the Junior World Cup.
Finding a friend in Fate
Frankly, his two goals in the tournament were too modest a return to warrant a call-up to the senior camp. There were others more prolific than him. But maybe, along with nature and nurture, Hannan had a companion in Fate too.
Fate chose to make a reappearance when an injury to Abu Bakar Mehmood left a slot open in the Asia Cup in 2022. And thus, at 16, Hannan got his first international cap.
He has juggled between the senior and junior teams since.
Hannan offered only glimpses of his ability in the first year. At the 2023 Junior Asia Cup, though, he displayed consistency. He scored five goals in six appearances and was pivotal in the team’s dash to the final.
“I played two India-Pakistan games. One we drew and the final (which) India won. In the draw, I won Player of the Match. That was memorable for me, the one I cherish the most. In the final, I had one assist. But the league match is more memorable,” says Hannan.
Always up for challenges
At the Asian Champions Trophy, he is eager to play India again. It will be the seniors’ ranks, but Hannan is game for it.
“I have worked with four or five coaches till now, and they all say the same thing - it is a game of emotions. The one that controls its emotions better will win. The rest are tactics that are the same as in any other match. The planning for all matches is nearly the same, but the emotional aspects change in a few big games,” says Hannan.
The 17-year-old has carved out a special place for himself in the team. Every transition, such as the one Pakistan finds itself in, needs a centerpiece to evolve around. The combinations are picked apart and relaid, with the focal point remaining constant.
Hannan’s exploits hold promise that he can be that focal point.
It is not for the faint-hearted, mind you. There is constant attention. The scrutiny is relentless. And given that it is a widely-followed sport, the emotions, more often than not, run high.
Hannan, however, is undaunted.
“When people see you get the awards, they expect more. They think this one is extraordinary. But what my duties are, I try to follow them. I try to do what I have to, and not create too much hype for myself,” says Hannan.
What has been clear from his two performances so far in Chennai is that Hannan is a team player through and through. He puts the team first. He will happily set up an assist for his fellow teammate.
“If we wish to do wonders alone, we might mess up doing what is best for the team. My priority is to do what the coach wants me to, where I am the best for the unit. The more I combine with the rest, the better I perform. No player can ever become a one-man army.”
All that occupies Hannan’s mind right now is ensuring the team seals the Olympic berth. “Unfortunately, Pakistan could not qualify for the last two Olympic Games. So, we are focusing on the Asian Games,” says Hannan.
Such is Hannan’s insistence on playing for the team that he has been guilty of being too helpful. Against Malaysia and Korea, Hannan had scoring opportunities, but he let go of the ball to a teammate.
At 17, Hannan is most certainly still a work in progress. The finer details will be further polished over time. Upon realising his full potential, he would be a shot in the arm for the team. And that is what the young boy from Lahore leaves for his old friend, Fate, to decide.
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