‘Hockey comes first'

PTI

The world renowned Pakistani drag-flicker Syed Imran Warsi is also a model, a film buff and an aspiring actor. But hockey is his priority. “It's my bread and butter,” he says in a chat with K. Keerthivasan.

Syed Imran Warsi is a multi-faceted personality. He is a renowned drag-flicker who can completely change the complexion of a game in a jiffy. The 26-year-old Pakistani, who was outstanding for Chennai Cheetahs in the Bridgestone World Series Hockey, also has an abiding interest in other things. He is a model for a lifestyle magazine in Karachi, has a contract with Adidas and is a keen follower of Bollywood films. Imran has a desire to act in Hindi films.

“It is not difficult to juggle different jobs; I am good at it. But I know hockey is my bread and butter,” he said.

“You know, all sportsmen are good actors. They all act on the field,” he added.

One of Imran's wishes is to act with Bollywood stars Kajol and Rani Mukherjee. “I saw Rani in the film Black. I was speechless,” he said, leaning back on a sofa in his room at the Taj Connemera in Chennai.

Talking of his love of films, Imran said it's not just a fascination for actors, but a genuine interest to act in movies. “It's the performance that I am interested in. Moreover, modelling has given me enough exposure and confidence to act,” he explained.

He then reiterated, “Of course, hockey comes first.”

Talking of the Word Series Hockey, Imran is pleased to have won the Golden Stick award for being the tournament's top scorer (19 goals). However, a team-man that he is, his joy must have been toned down by the fact that Chennai Cheetahs failed to qualify for the semifinals of World Series Hockey. “After the loss to Mumbai Marines, I felt very bad. But I still believe my team will become champion next season,” he said.

Imran started out as a cricketer and played the sport till Standard IX, but on the insistence of his father Syed Ehtesham Ali Warsi, a World Cup hockey player, he switched to hockey. “I used to play cricket with Shahid Afridi among others. I enjoyed cricket, but after my father advised me to play hockey, I started as a forward before being assigned the role of a defender,” he reminisced.

Imran considers his father a big role model. “When I am in doubt, I consult him. He is a great man and a fine human being. He still gives me tips on hockey,” he said.

By watching Sohail Abbas, Imran learnt the nuances of the drag-flick. After months of hard work and practice day-in and day-out, he became one of the most feared penalty corner specialists in the world.

The fan following Imran commanded during World Series Hockey had to be seen to be believed. In a league match against Bhopal Badshahs in Chennai, when Imran was injured and taken out of the field, the spectators chanted ‘Warsi, Warsi'. And after he returned to the field, the chants became even louder.

“It's a great experience to have played in World Series Hockey. I hope other countries too start leagues like this. People have loved me here. I am grateful to them,” he said. Imran made his senior International debut during the eight-Test series — played on home and away basis — against India in 2004. “Ours was a team with big names. I was a teenager, watching Sohail Abbas and Waseem Ahmed play. I was so scared. But what an experience it was,” he recalled.

Being a part of the gold medal-winning Pakistan team in the Rabobank Trophy in 2005 in Holland is what Imran considers the high point of his career. “We played against Australia in the final where Brent Livermore (his team-mate at Chennai Cheetahs) also played. I scored my team's first goal through a penalty corner,” he recalled.

The one tournament that he wishes to forget is the 2004 Junior World Cup where Pakistan finished seventh. “We had a very good team. I still can't accept the fact that it was possible. It was a nightmare,” Imran said.

He rated Roelant Oltmans, Jose Brasa and Ric Charlesworth as the best coaches. “Being with them and listening to them talk on hockey is enough. They are legends. Brasa is calm, collected and full of concentration. Oltmans is full of technical knowledge. And who can forget Ric Charlesworth? These three dominate the world in coaching,” Imran said.

Though frank and forthright on most matters, Imran was not willing to talk about Pakistan hockey and the implications of players like him, Rehan Butt and Waseem Ahmed competing in World Series Hockey, unmindful of the FIH (international hockey federation) and Pakistan Hockey Federation sanctions. “My silence speaks more than a thousand words,” he said.

What does the future hold for him?

“I don't think of tomorrow. I live for today. Everyday is a last day for me,” he said.