Karachi: India will have to get their act together against Pakistan in the opening match of the four-Test hockey series starting in Karachi on Friday. The Indian team had a disastrous campaign in the Athens Olympics. The Indian Hockey Federation has sent a new-look team keeping an eye on the future. Pitted against archrivals However, its move to rebuild the side could get a serious beating at the hands of the Pakistanis, determined to prevail over their archrivals. The Indian senior hockey team is arriving in Pakistan for a test series after five long years. This may be a relatively new Indian team, but Pakistan is an old opponent. Besides, a sub-continental encounter is always special, whatever the sport. Sporting concerns However, emotions apart, the question being asked is how helpful an Indo-Pak series will be in helping improve the standard of hockey for both teams. The Athens Olympics was the first time that an Asian team did not make it to the semi-finals. And this has exposed the gap between the standard of sub continental hockey and the game played by their European and Australian counterparts. India and Pakistan have played each other 12 times since 2003. In contrast, the last time India played Athens semi-finalists Spain in a series was more than four years back, in January, 2000. "An Indo-Pak series is very good for the sake of promoting hockey in Asia. We draw huge crowds and both teams stand to improve," said Sohail Abbas, member, Pakistan hockey team. However he added that when there is talk about playing at an international level such a series hardly counts since both teams are playing within the same structure. Measuring up But Indian coach Gerhard Rach has a long-term plan in mind, which includes eight new faces, a brand new forward line, and the Indo-Pak series to blood the younger talent for the future. Pakistan is being acknowledged as the stronger team, both in terms of experience and tactics. Waseem Ahmed will lead them, after Mohammed Nadeem quit as skipper in the aftermath of the Athens Olympics. Upper edge Statistically too, Pakistan hold the edge over their sub-continental neighbours. In the 1998 test series, India won three matches and lost six. In the 1999 test series, the last time the Indian seniors played in Pakistan, it was three matches to India, and four to Pakistan. The two countries have played each other six times this year alone. India has lost all six encounters. These losses include one at the Azlan Shah in Kuala Lumpur, two at the Olympic qualifiers in Madrid, two in the 4 nation tournament in Holland, with the last defeat coming at the Athens Olympics Looking beyond Statistics and inexperience aside an India-Pakistan series always creates a fair bit of excitement. The idea then should be to look beyond the emotions and the hype, for the younger members of the team to treat this as a learning experience and a chance to prove themselves. For the hockey officials, coaches and federations from both sides of the border, this match could be an opportunity to use the lessons learnt during the series for improving the standard and future of hockey in the sub-continent.
Topics : Hockey