Brand Rehan and WSH

Rehan Butt… a great schemer and penalty-corner specialist, the Pakistani is a big crowd-puller.-

“Hockey in Pakistan and India is going down. The reason is that the glamour (that was once) associated with the sport is not there anymore,” says Rehan Butt. By Nandakumar Marar.

Rehan Butt is one of the eight Pakistan stars taking part in the Bridgestone World Series Hockey (WSH) 2012. We also have Waseem Ahmed (Bhopal Badshahs) and Imran Warsi (Chennai Cheetahs) from across the border, playing influential roles as schemer and penalty-corner specialist respectively in the eight-team championship.

The Chandigarh Comets skipper, Rehan, is a crowd-puller in world hockey and is known for scoring spectacular goals. He is in a league of his own and has a domineering presence in the Pakistan team, striking goals in pressure games for his side. Named in the FIH All-Star XI in 2008, Rehan has been the centre of attraction since then. In WSH, the man with jersey No. 10 is watched by many for various reasons.

From hockey's viewpoint, Rehan is valuable in attracting fans to the stadiums and viewers on television. He accepted the contract from Nimbus for one basic reason: to make a living as a professional hockey player. Rehan kept his word to the promoter by defying the directive of the Pakistan hockey federation not to participate in the championship.

There is every possibility that he could be punished by the Pakistan hockey federation on his return, but Rehan, who is one of the most famous forwards in the game today, is currently focussed on playing for Chandigarh Comets in WSH and boosting the popularity of the game.

“Hockey in Pakistan and India is going down. The reason is that the glamour (that was once) associated with the sport is not there anymore. Youngsters will be attracted towards any activity so long as there is glamour (associated with it).”

Rehan observed: “Now, young Indians watching World Series Hockey (on television and in stadiums) are realising that the sport can be glamorous. There is money and fame to be earned, which is an encouragement to keep playing (the game).”

(Nimbus put together a package — on the lines of the Indian Premier League — whereby eight city-based teams fight for the winner's purse of Rs. 4 crore.)

Rehan is listed among the Pakistan probables for the 2012 Olympics and he is one of the ‘A' grade players contracted by the national federation. As a professional, he could not ignore WSH which offered lucrative amounts to stars picked up by the eight franchises. Besides, it is also a tournament where European coaches and players from various nations compete for recognition with the local players.

Rehan is keen on representing Pakistan in international events. And he is conscious about the brand value that Pakistan hockey has in the minds of the Indians. “When we play anywhere in India, there is a lot of curiosity and interest because fans here recognise the Pakistan players and respond,” he explained.

“The feeling was similar when leading Indian players had come to play in the Pakistan Super Hockey League (in 2005). People who follow hockey enjoyed the excitement these stars brought to the game and the players became popular. It is said that sport has the power to bring people closer. Hockey is appreciated in both nations, and events like World Series Hockey and reviving the Indo-Pak series can help,” he added.

The ace striker had played for Northern Cavaliers in 2005 Pakistan League, and facing him in the goalmouth was India's goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza who played for Baloch Lions. Adrian was outstanding in the contest.

Seven years later, Adrian faced Rehan again in the WSH as Mumbai Marines hosted Chandigarh Comets at the MHA-Mahindra stadium. “Adrian was in form, otherwise we could have easily won by seven goals,” said Rehan, who had to sit out in the fourth quarter owing to a finger injury he sustained in an on-field collision. He had to watch on from the bench as Chandigarh won 5-2. Canadian Sukhwinder Singh (two) and the young Indian player Gurjinder Singh (two) did the damage.

“There are many youngsters from India playing hockey. Playing under Indian and European coaches and watching different styles will help them adjust and get better,” Rehan said.

He is very clear about the reason why the two Asian powers are lagging behind their European counterparts. “Frequent rule amendments created confusion and problems. Pakistan and India have little say in these decisions that are to the advantage of the Europeans. By the time our players get a grip on how to use the rules (to our advantage), further changes come in,” explained Rehan.

India did not qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while Pakistan did and it finished eighth. Both nations will figure in men's hockey at the 2012 Olympics in London. Maybe, there will be more clarity in their approach this time.

* * * AMAZING PAKISTANIS

Champion players…Pakistan's midfield specialist Waseem Ahmed (left) in conversation with Sohail Abbas, an expert drag-flicker.-

Mumbai Marines midfielder Viren Rasquinha and captain Adrian D'Souza rate Waseem Ahmed as one of the best playmakers of his time. “In his peak, Waseem was the best midfield player in the world; so was Sohail Abbas in converting penalty corners. Both are gentlemen and great ambassadors for the game,” said the former India captain Rasquinha.

Waseem's first meeting with the Mumbai captain conveyed the excitement of the Pakistani players coming over to play in WSH. “Familiar with the boisterous crowds in Chandigarh, he wanted to know how hockey fans react in other places. WSH travels to different cities this time, and at each venue crowds react in different ways,” said Adrian. He recalled the expectations of the Pakistani fans during his stint there in the 2005 Super Hockey League. Six Indians (apart from Viren Rasquinha and Adrian D'Souza, Dilip Tirkey, Gagan Ajit Singh, Arjun Halappa and Sandeep Singh were invited) played in the league for different sides.

“The abundance of raw, young talent in Pakistan was striking. The situation is very similar to India,” recalled Rasquinha, who played for Frontier Falcons. “These kids get the exposure to foreign methods only after getting into national squads, or as established names in international hockey who enter the European club leagues,” he added.

Talking of the benefits of WSH, Rasquinha said: “WSH has invested in signing foreign coaches and players and has arranged for support staff such as trainers and video analysts. Youngsters drafted into WSH will benefit from training and preparations and also playing against and alongside the greats.

Adrian reminisced taking on ace drag-flicker Sohail Abbas on the field. “Sohail Abbas is a player I respect the most. He is not only a great athlete but a very humble person,” he said.

“We keep in touch now on Facebook,” he added.

For Rasquinha, the happiest sight during the 2005 SHL was the giant posters of Pakistan greats Waseem, Sohail and others outside the stadium in Karachi. “There is a great sense of hockey history. For kids accompanied by parents coming to watch a match, these posters act as motivator,” he said.