Based on current form, great polo rivals Pakistan and India, are the early favourites to reach the final in this year’s Asian-Australasian-African Polo Championships when they take on Australia and South Africa respectively in the semi-finals at the Royal Pahang Polo grounds today.
Even the absence of their ace Hissam Ali Hyder, a five goaler, who is currently playing professional polo in England, has not dampened Pakistan’s confidence. Hissam, better known as “Namu” in the polo world, has not been released by his club in England as he is needed for the semi-finals in the Queen’s Cup competition.
“With or without Hissam we are confident of reaching the final and qualify for the (FIP Polo World Cup) Finals,” said team manager Abdul Qadir Mamdot.
“We are in great form. Pakistan set a national scoring record with 28 goals in two matches. We are also the top scorers here and it has given us the confidence. Insyallah (God willing) we can maintain our current form.
“The absence of Hissam will not affect our game as we have Sami Ullah (Handicap 4) who has been in great form in our matches against Nigeria and Pakistan. Australia is a good side but we have a good strong attacking side to take them on.
“Hissam’s club in England could release him as his team is in the semi-finals. Hissam is a great player and has been recommended to increase his Handicap to 6. He is a great player. He is our No 1...very fast and very accurate. His presence would have made an effect on the team. ”
So far Pakistan have played in only one World Cup Finals and this was in Paris in 2003 but failed to make the second round.
Pakistan topped the table with 28 goals for and 17 against for a massive plus 11 goals after a 15 ½ - 7 and 12 ½ wins over Nigeria and South Africa respectively while India were second with a 17.5 and 10 against with a 7.5 plus tally derived from 5 ½ - 5 and 12-5 wins over Australia and Malaysia.
Meanwhile, India manager Vikram Rathore said the arrival of His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur is a “morale booster” to the team, especially in the semi-finals match against South Africa.
“We go into the match, having played a ‘high-pressure’ match against Australia. This has put us in the right frame of mind to face South Africa for a place in the final,” said Vikram, who is counting on hot-shot Samir Suhag, who scored seven goals against Malaysia and four against Australia.
“Hopefully, it will be an India-Pakistan final. We have great rivalry in polo. It will be good for Asian polo.”
India and South Africa go into the match on equal footing, with a win each in the two test matches they played earlier this year. India won 9-6 at home but lost 8-5 away.
South Africa coach Clive Peddle said: “It will be interesting semi-finals. It will be different when you play at this stage of the tournament.
Our top priority is to qualify for the finals as we won the last Qualifier in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, Malaysia ended their campaign with a sixth placing in the seven-team championships which also counted as the Zone D Qualifier for this year’s FIP Polo World Cup Finals in Argentina from Oct 11-25.
In yesterday’s round robin playoffs played over two chukkas, Malaysia had mixed fortunes, beating Nigeria 5 1/2 – 5 in the first match but lost 3 – 2 ½ to New Zealand.
Malaysia finished sixth, Nigeria, seventh while New Zealand took fifth place after a 3-3 draw against Nigeria.
The champions, the runners-up and the third place winner will qualify for the World Cup Finals.