By Khalid Hussain
KARACHI: Drag flick ace Sohail Abbas and seasoned striker Rehan Butt have been passed as fit by their coach Shahid Ali Khan as Pakistan stepped up their preparations for next month's Asia Cup in Kuantan, Malaysia.
Shahid told 'The News' on Wednesday that both Sohail and Rehan - who have reported for duty at the national training camp that got underway in Lahore earlier this week - look in good shape and hoped that the return of these senior players and a couple more would improve Pakistan's chances in the eight-nation event.
"Sohail looks fine," said Shahid who is at the helm of the Asia Cup preparatory camp that will continue till Pakistan's departure for Malaysia on May 2. Pakistan are eyeing a shot at the title in the May 9-15 tournament that will serve as a qualifying event for next year's World Cup in India. "He looks physically fit. We had a few penalty corner drills today and it's quite evident that the power is very much there," he added.
Pakistan are pinning their hopes in Sohail's goal-scoring prowess off short corners. The Karachi-based Sohail is regarded among the best drag flick experts in world hockey and holds the record for the highest number of goals in international hockey.
Shunned by Pakistan since the 2006 World Cup in Germany for skipping a national training camp, Sohail has mostly played club hockey in Europe in recent years.
Skeptics have raised questions over the logic of recalling him after such a long gap and have instead called for the inclusion of fresh blood in the national side.
They also question the wisdom behind inducting those players in the national team for the Asia Cup who have just played club hockey in recent times.
Shahid, however, disagrees with them and is of the view that players like Sohail and Rehan should bolster Pakistan's hopes in the Asia Cup.
The Pakistan coach said that players like Sohail and Rehan have kept themselves fit by playing for their clubs in Holland. "They both seem to be match fit and are hungry to be back in international hockey," he said.
Rehan, a former Pakistan skipper, has joined the camp while two more senior players - Waseem Ahmed and Salman Akber - are set to report for national duty soon.
"Waseem should join the camp soon while Salman will report on the 28th," said Shahid.
The quartet of senior players will appear in the Asia Cup trials to be held at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore on April 29.
Pakistan are hoping to name an 18-man squad capable of winning the Asia Cup. The former Asia Cup champions are placed in Pool B of the tournament with old rivals India, China and minnows Bangladesh.
The News International