Shahid Parvez Bhandara
Guwahati, Feb. 9: Punjab, which was carved into two during Partition in 1947, may unite again, at least on the hockey field.
The manager of Pakistan's hockey team, Shahid Parvez Bhandara, who is also the president of the Punjab Hockey Association, said he had reached out to his Indian counterpart to try and arrange a Punjab-versus-Punjab cross-border match.
"We have initiated talks with the Punjab Hockey Association in India and the chairman there, S. Hardip Singh Dhillon, has assured that both the Punjabs will organise transborder matches for the promotion of the sport," Bhandara said.
"The initiative should come from the state level and then the Union governments should give their nod. And even though we are separated by borders, hockey is still the favourite sport in both the parts. The International Olympic Committee will not mingle in these affairs. This should be an effort by the two hockey loving countries only," he said. Currently, India are ranked seventh and Pakistan are ranked 10th in the world.
Bhandara said he had also initiated steps to revive the venerable Punjab States Games, which have been suspended following bitter relations between the two countries. The annual event used to be organised in both countries on alternate years.
Pakistan beat India 2-1 yesterday. One of the reasons why that match at Maulana Md Tayebulla Hockey Stadium here was significant was that it was the first encounter between the countries after a Champion's Trophy 2014 match where things turned a little ugly when some Pakistani players made obscene gestures after beating India 4-3. Two Pakistani players were banned for a year after the incident.
"Our team is a bit handicapped now. No doubt, we have six Olympians in our team but we had an 18-member team ready for the South Asian Games. But accreditation was granted to only 15 players due to which we had to make Rehan Butt, who was not very fit, play instead of Samir Ul, who had trained for the entire year. Both the countries did not give their best," said Bhandara about yesterday's match.
The absence of ace players in India's second-string team was clearly felt but skipper Mandeep Antil put up a brave front and said his team could still beat Pakistan.
"We have made a few technical mistakes and missed a few opportunities. But I assure that we will address those mistakes in our next matches," said Antil. India face Sri Lanka tomorrow.