Oman national hockey squad is looking to make the most of it from a five-match Test series against a strong Pakistan Development Squad, ahead of the Asia Cup in Bangladesh from October 11 to 21. Oman head coach KK Poonacha said the five-match series will be the perfect preparation for Asia Cup. “Oman side consists mostly of young players. We cannot ask for a better training than playing the Pakistan team which comprises top quality junior players who are contenders for a place in the national team.”
“After the series, Oman squad of 22 players will be shortened to 18, who will travel to Bangladesh for Asia Cup and four will remain as a standby in Oman,” the Indian coach said.
Replying to a query, he said Oman will focus on bolstering the defence during the series.
“We need to improve our defensive tactics and penalty corner skills. Our focus will be to improve these areas along with the overall game during the series,” Poonacha, in his third stint as Oman coach, said.
Oman Hockey Association (OHA) chairman Talib al Wahaibi promised a stiff challenge from the hosts during the series.
“Oman have improved several ranks over the recent period and we are preparing a team which is capable of performing in the modern hockey of high-performance game.”
Al Wahaibi said Oman, now seventh in Asia, will target a sixth place finish in the Asia Cup.
“We are now one rank below China and one ahead of Bangladesh. We want to overtake China and move on to the next position,” the OHA chief said.
Poonacha said that a sixth-place finish in Asia Cup will also ensure a direct qualification to Asian Games, avoiding the qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Development Squad, a bunch of national team hopefuls, are seeking some good match exposure in Muscat.
“We are not taking Oman lightly. Oman is not an easy team to beat. We will put out our best performance to win the series,” Mohammed Usman, head coach of the Pakistan team, said.
On a query on Pakistan not living up to the expectations compared to the old glory, the 1994 Sydney World Cup winning captain said modern hockey is all about creating a dynamic system to develop young talents.
“Pakistan is clearly lacking such a system and our aim is to set up an appropriate programme for this.”
Pakistan Hockey League (PHL) will come into place in this November-December which will be a major boost to the game in the country, the former Olympian said.
The PHL is expected to reinvent the popularity of the game in the country.
Another area to improve is fitness.
“Our players have the skill but are behind the European players in terms of fitness levels. The European sides have come through to the top by maintaining a dynamic players’ programme in their countries,” Usman said.
Assistant coach Mohammed Saqlain said Oman is a fast-improving side and the series is expected to be good opportunity for young Pakistan players to prove their skills.
“The upcoming period is very hectic with World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asia Cup all coming. So it is important to keep a pool of players ready for all these competitions,” Saqlain said.
Oman will play five Tests against the Pakistan side at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Bausher. The matches will be held on September 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15. The first two matches will begin at 7.30 pm, while the last three games are set for a 8 pm start.
After the home series, Oman will fly to Malaysia to play another five matches before leaving for Dhaka for the Asia Cup.
Legendary Pakistan player Shahbaz Ahmed Senior, who is the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) Secretary, will arrive to watch the series on September 11.
In the Asia Cup, Oman are placed in Pool B along with South Korea, China and Malaysia.
Pool A comprises India, Pakistan, Japan and hosts Bangladesh.
In Dhaka, Oman will begin their campaign against South Korea on October 12. The Sultanate side will play their remaining pool matches against China on October 14 and Malaysia on October 16.
The tournament’s Super 4s and classification matches will take place from October 18 to 21 and the final is slated for October 22.
The Asia Cup winners will directly qualify for the World Cup to be held in Bhubaneswar, India from November 28 to December 16, 2018.
Oman squad: Assad Mubarak al Qasmi, Salah Nasir al Saadi, Abdullah Hamood al Alawi, Khalid Juma al Shaaibi, Ammar Juma al Shaaibi, Rashad al Fazari (Ahli Sidab), Fahad Khamis al Nofli (goalkeeper), Ahmed Sabil al Balushi, Younis Ghabish al Nofali, Basim Khatir Rajab, Faisal Said al Loun, Ahmed Said al Noufali (Al Nasr), Shafi Talib Ramadhan, Hashim Ganum al Shatri, Maggdi Khamis Jaman (Dhofar), Mahmood Salim al Hosni, Marwan Abdul Rehman, Qasim Moosa Khalfan al Shibli, Mohammed Hassan al Lawati (Seeb), Amjad Abdullah al Hosni (GK - Bausher), Ahmed Yousaf al Amri (Sohar), Ahmed Badar Zahir (Salalah) and Ibrahim Nasser Al Farsi (GK - Sohar).
The Pakistan development squad: Hafiz Ali Umair, Ali Raza (goalkeepers), Asad Aziz, Mubashir Ali, Mohammad Sohail Manzoor, Tazeem-ul-Hassan, Faizan, Taimur Malik, Rana Sohail Riaz, Shajeeh Ahmed (captain), Mohammad Atiq (vice-captain), Samiullah, Shan Irshad, Abdul Jabbar, Mohammad Naveed, Nohaiz Zahid Malik, Awais-ur-Rehman and Amir Ali.