By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, Oct 30 : In hockey, the defenders win the championship while the attackers win the individual matches, said one of India’s reputed mid field player N. Mohammed Riaz having played about 280 international matches.
An Arjuna awardee, the 49-year old Riaz had played for India for a decade between 1990s and 2000 and is working with Air India as a Deputy General Manager.
Agreeing that the strikers/attackers are the cynosure of the crowd as they score the goal, Riaz pointed out that it is the mid field players who develop the chances for the strikers to score while preventing the opposition from scoring.
“The defenders win the championship while the forwards win the match,” he remarked.
A former Indian team captain, Riaz had played for India in Olympics (1996 and 2000), World Cups (1994, 1998) and two Asian Games (1994, 1998-India won Gold after a gap of 32 years).
Later he had played in the professional league in Belgium and Germany in 2002 and 2004 respectively.
“Hockey runs in his blood. His father Mohammed Abdul Nabi was a good player and also an international referee. His family members too were good hockey players,” former Indian Hockey team Captain and Olympian V. Baskaran told IANS.
Riaz’s elder brother played hockey for Tamil Nadu while younger brother was a national player.
Many of his uncles were also hockey players and it was natural that Riaz took to hockey like a fish takes to the water.
Riaz said he had his schooling at the Government Madrasa-I-Azam Higher Secondary School here which has the reputation of sending about eight international hockey players.
Making it to the school and the state juniors’ team, Riaz said the turning point of his career was the 1989 national junior championship.
“I played well there. Even when the team was trailing, playing at the centre half position, I scored goals and took the team to victory. The newspaper headline used to be Riaz vs the name of the rival state team,” he mused.
After that there was no looking back for Riaz and his sports career went up like the curve in the hockey stick.
“I had watched Riaz as a junior player. He had played in a hockey tournament held for the wards of Railway employees in Varanasi. His father was in the Railways. The Southern Railway team reached finals. At that time itself, I had the feeling that this boy would turn into a big player and that happened,” Baskaran who had captained the Indian team that won gold at the Moscow Olympics.
He went to the national junior’s camp and got selected to the junior Indian team and into to the senior’s camp as an outstanding junior player.
“As a lean and only player from Tamil Nadu, I had resolved to train hard and play well to prove myself as a player worthy to be in the national squad,” Riaz recalled.
Riaz was the junior most player in the Indian team and the seniors who helped him with their tips and suggestions.
“They also cheered and guided me so that I got the confidence to play along with them and also against the seniors in the rival teams,” Riaz said.
He made his debut in the International Hockey arena playing for India in the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.
Riaz was part of the Indian squad that toured Australia in 1993.
“I was a substitute and during the third match got a chance to play for 10 minutes and from the next match onwards I was in the team. I was declared as the ‘Best Find of the Tournament’,” he recalled.
Speaking about his style play the Olympian Riaz said he is good at the drag part.
“As a mid-field player, I can see the whole field even as my head will be down tackling the ball,” Riaz said.
“Riaz was a complete hockey player with lots of vision and a good team player. A gentleman player, Riaz has hockey brain. He had employed many of the modern day tactics like creating space for team mates, one-on-one skill and others. There won’t be any major misses in his passes,” Baskaran said.
“More than that, Riaz was a graceful player. There may be players who are talented but lack grace. But Riaz had both and was a delight to watch him play,” Baskaran added.
Continuing further, Baskaran said Riaz can play both at the left and right wings which not many players can do.
The hockey game got him a job at Air India and in 2004 Riaz got married.
“At the time of marriage my wife knew about hockey,” he said.
The couple begot two children – daughter 14-year old Shameena Riaz, 14, Tamil Nadu squash player and son eight year old Mohammed Rayhan who likes football.
“I had asked my son to play hockey or cricket to which he said the family has lot of hockey players while cricket players will be popular only in the countries where the game is played. On the other hand, football is played world over and the players become world famous,” Riaz said.
As regards his daughter’s love for squash Riaz said he had taken her to a club where squash was being played. She got a chance to play and hit two good shots and got hooked to the game.
Riaz declined to answer any non-sports related questions politely and gracefully.
Agreeing that cricket is popular and gets more space in the media, Riaz adds that hockey too is well covered by the newspapers.
Though the national game hockey is really fast paced needing huge amount of stamina, most star players do not get a chance to become a brand ambassadors for relevant products unlike cricket players, Riaz said.
Riaz also had a successful stint as a coach for Indian seniors and juniors team that had won gold and silver medals at prestigious tournaments like Asian Champions Trophy held in China in 2011 (Gold), Champions Challenge Hockey Championships held South Africa, in 2011 (Silver), the Gold winning Junior Indian Hockey Team at the Junior European Championships, Poland.
Today Riaz spends his free time going to the grounds and giving tips to juniors on playing techniques.
“I do free coaching for the students of my old school every year. I also coach the players of Kovilpatti Academy. I would like to share my skill sets with the juniors,” he added.
Looking at the current Indian hockey scene, he said the Indian team is in the top five in the world and medal prospects are not far away.
“Earlier countries like Germany, Spain and Holland used to figure in the semi-finals of most tournaments. The world hockey scene has changed with low ranked teams doing well and winning championships,” he said.