Samiullah - Permanent Place in the sun
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

His lithe figure, hurtling down the left side in complete control of the ball, was a sight that delighted the hearts of old-timers in the stands. Here was a player who, in his wizardry, they said, showed glimpses of Dara and Dhyan Chand in their heyday.

Those of the younger generation who had heard their elders speak often of what good pre-partition hockey was all about, found their spirits lifting when these grizzled old-timers, spellbound by the darting Samiullah, acknowledged that— yes, it was still possible for the old magic to come alive. Whenever there was a field move by Samiullah and his front line, one could see clock-work precision and understanding between them. It was as if all of them were wired to each other by some invisible and intangible bond, as if they could read each other's minds.

This telepathy was of course nothing jut practice made perfect. "We were able to create this impression of invincibility," says Samiullah, with a light smile around his eyes, "because we used to work at our moves with hours upon hours of practice. We wanted to coordinate and synchronise our game. "

The result was that when a match got going, Samiullah,amid his attackers appeared o move as if one, as if the four front liners had been uncannily programmed. But it must be noted that this was possible only because of two things. Complete ball control for one and selfless teamwork for another," says Samiullah.

An example of such teamwork, exhibited'twice in the match against Australia on November 24, 1978, will suffice to drive the point home. Playing from the corner on his side, Samiullah pushed the ball slowly to Munawar, and as the Australian defenders were drawn to him, Munawar returned the ball to Samiullah. As he was rushed at, Samiullah sent a beautiful pass to Shehnaz in the centre-forward position, and this attacker just flicked it in. Goal made possible by good coordinated teamwork.

Second example: Samiullah dribbled his way through by beating the right half, then the right back and sent the ball into the striking area, where Manzoor Jr, trapping it well, scooped it high into the corner of the goal. One more goal scored by good synchro¬nised teamwork. In the case of both goals, though he helped to batter'the opposing team with his electrifying moves, it was his team-mates that got the goals.

Samiullah says that teams win when they play as such 'No loner can score'.

There are players who never get a chance to play in the front line and therefore they don't score goals. But it is they who make goals possible. Even in the front line it is the joint effort that brings in the winning numbers. The team wins and every member wins. "Otherwise everyone loses," Samiullah has always been a team player. His times have seen Pakistan win again and again. He played 152 international matches and scored 48 goals. Not very impressive, one might opine, but if one could reproduce here all the accolades that he earned from the world's leading commentators and those who played against him, one would get a fair idea of what he did in the field.

His performance is lauded again and again. He is mentioned as the common denominator in bringing victory to the nation with Islahuddin, Manzoor, Rashid and others. About his coordina¬tion with Islahuddin, against Germany and Spain in March 1975 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Randhir Singh  Indian commentator, said. "1 have rarely seen such fast flankmen as the Pakistanis have in Samiullah and islahuddin, who combine their wonderful speed with ball control,",The West Australian, an Australian newspaper, in-its issue of April 18, 1979, on the'eve of the 10 nation International Hockey Tournamennt Perth, said the left winger Samiullah, 27, is recognised-as the world's best player.

Another little known fact about Samiuilah: He seemed to hold the welfare of his life and limbs wrth scant regard. Twice he broke his collar bone, the first time in Kuala Lumpur in p 1975, in the'final of the third World Cup," and the second time in August, of the same year, playing for the Customs against traditional rivals, the National Bank team.


Samiullah was born in Dera Isrnail Khan on September 9, 1951. Hockey has been a family game for the last two generations. He says he wasinspired by his uncle Motiullah who played for Pakistan from 1954 to 1965- He used to see the crowds at the matches, the welcome meetings and receptions in honour of his uncle. The family boosted the game in Bahawalpur. Motiullah welcomed Samiullah's efforts to learn the game and groomed the young boy. Samiullah's entry into big time was made possible by his uncle'and elder, brother Hidayatullah, Later, his younger brother, Kalimullah would also play at the international level for Pakistan.

Samiullah's international hockey career began with his selection in the youth team that toured Sri Lanka. In 1970. he was selected for the national hockey team in 1971, 'dropped in 1972, and got into the Pakistan team again in 1973, and continued to play for the country till 1983. For the Customs, where he is employed, he played from 1974 to 1986. He represented the country in four world cups at Amsterdam in 1973, at Kuala Lumpur in 1975, at Buenos Aires in 1978, and at Bombay in 1981-82. He played for Pakistan in the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976, and in three Olympic Games, that is, in Teheran in 1974, Bangkok in 1978, and New Delhi in 1982. He used to play Inside left but shifted to outside left in 1974.

Samiullah was selected for the All Asian Team, too, that toured India and Pakistan in 1975. Besides that he par¬ticipated in the Christ church International in 1974, and the Quaid-i-Azam Centenary Tournament in 1976. He was chosen as the left-winger for the World Eleven in Perth. He has the honour of representing the country in all the four Champions Trophy Tournaments. He rates Germany, Holland, Australia and Pakistan as the most consistent and better hockey teams. The Australians proved to be the toughest opponents in my time."

Samiullah became the skipper of the Pakistan side following Akhtar Rasool's retirement after the Bombay World Cup. He then proceeded to lead Pakistan to victory in the first Asia Cup and retain Pakistan's gold medal in the Ninth Asian Games in Delhi.

However, after the Asian Olympics victory, Samiullah stepped down from the captaincy in favor of Manzoorui Hasan, and participated in the Esanda Cup of the Commonwealth Games as an ordinary member.

He has always been a 'team man', To use a cricket phrase for a player in a game which has brought immense pride and glory to Pakistan, Samiullah enjoyed a grand innings of over twelve years. In retrospect, it appears a long duration. But before the astro turf came along, it was not long.

The average 'life' of a hockey player was about this long, as his own uncle's twelve years are proof. The astro turf, introduced in 1975, reduced it somewhat, players managing about seven year runs, but a few changes in the rules have again begun to lengthen it, though not exactly back to the old tenures. "One's playing life depends, of course, on one's physical conditioning, to how one can stand up to the strain of competitive matches," Samiullah recalls two Pakistan hockey coaches, Nabi Kalat and Saeed Anwar who introduced new techniques for Keeping the players bodies' and muscles well toned.

But Samiullah did not stay longer than necessary. During the press con¬ference in which he announced his retirement he spoke little and preferred to remain to the point. He is frugal with words and does not indulge in acts which waste time and energy. This is perhaps another aspect of his pragmat¬ic character of which he gave full mea¬sure while talking to journalists.

According to this man who had led the national eleven to the unforgettable 7-1 victory at the Delhi Asiad, he had been on the national and international hockey scene for enough time.

"It is appropriate to say goodbye when you are still respected and appreciated,"

he said, "And this is what I have done," he said in response to newsmen's insistent queries about the 'story behind the story.' The wiser counsels of 'the time hailed it as a timely decision. The unceremonial exits later of other players only confirmed his decision to have been an honourable one.

In the press conference Samiullah expressed the opinion that the next challenging task for the national hockey team, apart from the Champions trophy, was the 1984 Olympics. He was sure that he himself would not remain super fit till then. He stressed that a new and energetic left-winger should be looked for to take his place. He thus gave almost two years to the selectors and the hockey supremos to find a replacement.

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At the time of this interview in the last week of October, Samiullah was worried that no decison had been taken as to who would coach and manage the team for the Campions Trophy in Madras which was scheduled to begin on the 7th of December.The coach and the manager should be given some time with the boys so that a rapport can be established between them. Also these two officials, who are responsible to a large extent about the players, can work out the various combinations as to which individual players can be made to play to the best of their potential," It is important that players know and are assured of where they will play and what is expected of each of them. Following this, they must be made to practice in the specific combinations. "You can never overestimate the confidence that one player has in the other if each of them knows the strengths of the other. Their responses to each other have to be fine-tuned. Each must know how the other will react and each must be aware of what his partner expects of him. They have to adjust to each other's speed and reflexes, Therefore, time is important. The degree of excellence or otherwise of performance is the direct result of the length of time spent in preparation."

Reverting to the places of players in the team, Samiullah gave the example of the recent disaster of the Pakistan team in the July Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. What was happening was that a player who was till today at number 6, was demoted to 16, that is. he went out of the team. And another player, say 5 or 4, for example, became no. 1. This type of shuffling ,was arbitrary in the extreme. No player 'can suddenly improve so quickly or suffer so extreme a loss of performance. This kind of experimenting, for want of a better term, led to every player feeling insecure, not knowing where he would be the next morning.

Player power, according to Samiullah, is the direct result of the boys wanting to protect themselves from the consequences of irresponsible actions of officials. If they could be sure of getting a fair deal, they would devote more of their time and energy in improving their performance and perfecting their techniques. Impressions of favoritism on the one hand and buckling to player pressure on the other, have to be eliminated. This is not such a difficult task. After all, Nur Khan managed the balance to a nicety. He was a strong administrator and took no non¬sense. But he was also a fair master. Politics was not allowed.

It is riot only the players who ensure victory, but a whole cadre of men complemented by a material and methods molded into the right configuration, under the right leadership on and off the field.

By Sikandar Sarwar

Published in Dawn Review Nov 26 - Dec 02, 1996