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Hong Kong Alis: One big hockey family (9/3/2007)
--K. Arumugam
Chennai, Sept. 3: Asghar Ali, Akbar Ali, Asif Ali and Arif Ali had played three Asian Games and two Asia Cups together. It’s just a bland statistic, but it’s not so when it’s revealed that the four hockey players are blood brothers. A team having four players from the same family is unprecedented in hockey. Akbar and Asif are here with the Hong Kong team at the 7th Asia Cup. Arif is a wonderful conversationalist and the youngest member of the unique hockey family takes over the narrator mantle. “We live in a place called Shelley Street in Hong Kong. Hockey is the number one game in our area. Every Hong Kong national team will have seven or eight players from Shelley Street, which has a predominant Muslim population. My father’s native place in Pakistan, Gojra, also has a rich history in hockey. You can compare Shelly Street and Gojra to some areas in Punjab where the game is immensely popular,” he adds.

If all the four brothers play a match, they can form a straight line on the field as Asghar (31) is a forward, Akbar (30) a fullback, Asif (30) a right-in and Arif (26) a centre-half. The Alis can exclusively execute a penalty corner routine: Akbar is the pusher, Asghar is the trapper and Arif and Asif are the No. 1 and No. 2 flickers respectively for their national team. Arif adds that their coaches normally leave the PC strategy to the brothers by saying. “It’s all in your family. Sort it out, guys.”

In the local leagues, Arif appears for a different team and the other three for one club. “We are intense on the field and cool off it. We discuss a lot about hockey at home but it’s always light-hearted,” Arif adds. The Alis are not confined to the stick game alone. They are quite adept at football too. “We play our hockey matches in the afternoon and the evenings are reserved for football. We are decent footballers,” Arif informs. “There is no argument regarding our favourite club and country. We are all big fans of Manchester United and Brazil,” he laughs.

Why isn’t the whole family here for the Asia Cup? “Sometimes, our job takes precedence over hockey. Asif couldn’t make it here because he is busy with his work for an airline company. Asghar and Akbar jointly own a firm, so one of them has to stay at Hong Kong. I have the privilege of going to all tournaments as I’m a full-time player. I’m a regular in the leagues of New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.

What are the plus points in having four siblings on the field? “Firstly, communication. We can all speak English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Cantonese (a variant of Mandarin). So we always try to use a language our opponents don’t know. Our understanding is better on the field. We also try to learn from each other,” Arif says. The minuses? “When all of us come back home after playing a club match in Hong Kong, our mom always complains that there are too many dirty clothes to wash,” Arif concludes with a roaring laugh.

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