By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)
It’s time for Samiullah Khan, the living legend of field hockey, to light another candle on his birthday cake. His name has become synonymous with Pakistan’s golden era in the national sport. The Flying Horse, most appropriately titled for his incredible speed, is always found full of energy which he has successfully retained because of his healthy habits and excellent work ethics.
Samiullah’s mention takes us back to the 1970s and early 1980s when Pakistan ruled the hockey world. Those were the times when all other teams, including Europeans, were under the awe of the green-shirted Pakistanis for whom sky seemed to be the limit. Such was the dominance of the star-studded Pakistan outfits that they were household names wherever the sport was played.
The team was packed with superstars but left-winger Samiullah stood out because of sheer brilliance. His lightening crosses paralyzed the most formidable of defence lines and he was simply unstoppable even when confronted by the tightest of markings.
His remarkable ball control with enormous speed was a rare and lethal combination which allowed him to penetrate the defenders at will. With his thrilling runs, body dodges and large leaps he posed the toughest challenge for the opponents. There was indeed something magical about him which made him the most valuable player of his generation.
Irrespective of the number of medals and trophies he earned, it was his impact which created numerous scoring opportunities and paved the way for the country to register victories with unmatchable frequency. It was a pity that his solitary appearance in Olympic Games came at Montreal in 1976 as Pakistan boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games at Moscow and he was forced to hang his boots before the 1984 Olympic Games which took place at Los Angeles.
He, however, featured in three editions of the World Cup, starting from Kuala Lumpur in 1975 where he hit headlines as Pakistan won silver medal. He continued to star in the next couple of World Cups at Buenos Aires (1978) and Bombay (1982) where Pakistan clinched gold medals.
He enjoyed even better record in Asian Games, as the country won gold medals on all three occasions, Tehran (1974), Bangkok (1978) and New Delhi (1982). Pakistan also captured gold medal in the 1980 Champions Trophy at Karachi in his presence.
Rather interestingly, the Indian audience in particular saw him at his very best when he was in the leadership role in two successive events. He was the vice-captain of the Pakistan team which won the World Cup at Bombay in 1982 while he was the captain of the team which annexed the Asian Games at New Delhi later the same year.