If you crunch numbers, Pakistan will be hands-down favourites for the Sunday humdinger in the FIH Hockey World League Semi-finals. But run a filter, sift through the records since 2010, and it will be India coming up trumps.
Pakistan’s nosedive in world hockey, highlighted by missing the 2016 Rio Olympics, isn’t a secret. The sport’s health in Pakistan isn’t promising and it has taken a toll on their performance graph, underlined by their slip to No. 13 in the FIH rankings.
The new administrative regime led by Shahbaz Ahmed is trying to resurrect things, overcome the financial crunch, groom new talent and get the game back on its legs in the country.
Amid this hockey turmoil across the border, things on the Indian turf have seen an upswing. Driven by a professional approach underlined by the Hockey India League, the team won the 2014 Asian Games gold and Champions Trophy silver last year. The rise showed in the FIH rankings, and India are now No 6 in the world – highest among teams from Asia.
It was only imminent that India’s improving record also helped them end Pakistan’s dominance when it comes to head-to-head between the two arch-rivals. And the repair job started in 2010. Coincidentally, it was also when Narinder Batra overturned the Late KPS Gill-led faction and took over as Hockey India’s secretary general.
But growing tensions at the border and Pakistani players’ unpardonable behaviour during the 2014 Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar added more friction to bilateral relations, so much so that Batra decided to cut ties with Pakistan, except meetings at neutral venues during the FIH and AHF tournaments.
Returning to numbers that govern Indo-Pak hockey statistics, Pakistan have always dominated India, whether at home, in India or at neutral venues. In the 167 matches that the two teams have met each other, Pakistan emerged victorious on 82 occasions, while India won 55 of those games and 30 ended as draw.
Except in Ipoh, Malaysia, Pakistan have dominated India around the world. It shows in their winning record of 15 vs 8 [in India], 10 vs 8 [in Pakistan] and 43 vs 32 [neutral venues]. However, in Ipoh, India have won 9 of the 10 matches played between the two neighbours.
Talking about neutral venues, London will also be one when the ball starts rolling on Sunday. But here also Pakistan have the upper hand, winning the two previous matches against India in the English capital in 1967 and 1986. But turn the clock back to 2010, and it’s India who rule the roost, beating Pakistan in 12 of the 27 matches over the last seven years. Pakistan have won 8, while the remaining 7 finished as draw.
The trend started reversing from the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where India thumped Pakistan 7-4. Though India lost the 2014 Champions Trophy semifinal to Pakistan on home soil, they beat them in the Asian Games final same year (winning the shootout 4-2) and the Asian Champions Trophy final (3-2) in 2016, which was also the last time the two rivals faced off.
Quite evidently, gone are the days when Sohail Abbas used to intimidate Indian defence with his drag-flicks, taking his tally to 55 goals – the most by any player in Indo-Pak matches. While the supply of young talent has increased for India – thanks to their professional approach, it has shrunken to dangerous levels in Pakistan. Under Roelant Oltmans, India have risen to challenge top teams more regularly now. It’s just that they have to win more often to break into the top three of FIH rankings.
But matters aren’t always decided on reputation and form when it comes to India vs Pakistan. With a gush of adrenaline, temperatures may rise and tempers flare up. It’s in those moments that the winner emerges, turning emotions into magical stick-work. Sunday will be no different.
- Last Match: Asian Champions Trophy Final, October 30, 2016 – India won 3-2
- Biggest Win for India: 7-4 (Champions Trophy in Amstelveen, August 22, 2003, 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, October 10, 2010)
- Biggest Win for Pakistan: 7-1 (Champions Trophy in Karachi, January 3, 1980, 1982 Delhi Asian Games, December 1, 1982)
- Most Goals in Indo-Pak Matches: 55 by Pakistan’s Sohail Abbas. Sandeep Singh is the top scorer for India with 21 goals