“They have already made us so proud. It is the best thing so far,” Pakistan’s premier heavyweight wrestler Zaman Anwar, who won silver for the country at the 2022 Commonwealth Games cheered for his teammates when asked about the exhilarating performances by the debutants Muhammad Sharif Tahir and Ali Asad on day two of the wrestling events in Birmingham.
The 20-year-old Sharif was in an impressive form on his first international outing when he reached the final of the 74kg freestyle event defeating a tough opponent in New Zealand’s Cole Hawkins 11-0 and confirming a silver medal at least for Pakistan.
Meanwhile Ali, 21, was looking equally fierce in his run at the 57kg competition when he reached the semi-finals, but lost 14-4 to Olympics silver medallist India’s Ravi Kumar after a tough fight. However, he still has a shot at bronze against New Zealand’s Suraj Singh.
Meanwhile, 2019 South Asian Games silver medallist and the 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, Tayyab Raza Awan, will be fighting for the bronze medal in the 97kg event that he was flying high at until he lost to Canada’s Nishan Randhawa 7-0 in the semi-final.
Tayyab is a medal hopeful as well, he does Brazilian ju-jitsu besides wrestling and comes from Lahore.
The wrestlers went on to take rest, after the first session of wrestling event ended in Birmingham and are looking forward to their medal fights.
But Zaman, who reached the final of the 125kg event on August 5, believes in his fellow wrestlers who are fighting for the country on the mat despite the lack of resources and on sheer talent.
“I feel all three of them have so much potential. They are doing so great. Sharif is up for gold, and he can do it. I feel Ali has been so impressive. I have seen these boys. Ali’s bronze is almost confirmed. I’m sure he’ll win it,” Zaman told The Express Tribune, as he was with the 86kg silver medallist and Pakistan's star wrestler Muhammad Inam and 65kg bronze medallist Inayathullah, who improved Pakistan’s medal tally on Friday with two silvers and one bronze medal.
He shared that training with Sharif, Ali and Tayyab has been great. He revealed that Tayyab is more seasoned wrestler who has given the country medals at major events and he believes Sharif and Ali are going to be the shining stars of the future.
Sharif comes from wrestling background as well and lives in walled city in Lahore.
“Sharif has made such an impression here. He comes from the inner Lahore area and has worked hard. He is also our new national champion. He has proved his worth.
“The performances are big because this is Sharif and Ali’s first international event. These are our newcomers,” said the Pakistan Wrestling Federation secretary Muhammad Arshad Sattar who is with his players in Birmingham.
He believes that Asad has immense talent as the youngster defeated the top wrestler Muhammad Bilal in the 57kg category at the national championship, and the inter-departmental competitions to earn his place in the Commonwealth Games squad.
“Ali comes from Gujranwala and he has been a phenomenal talent. He upset Bilal as the latter lost to someone for the first time in a decade. We chose our winners from the national championships and the open trials for the Commonwealth squad and Ali fit right into it,” said Sattar.
Zaman’s appeal for support
Thirty-one-year old Zaman, the two-time Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, World Beach Wrestling bronze medallist and the South Asian Games gold medallist in 2016 and 2019, feels that the institutional support makes a world of a difference for the wrestlers in the international arena.
“I just want to appeal to the government to please pay attention to the talent we have in wrestling. These boys can do so much if they are given the training abroad. Government’s support is key for their future,” emphasized Zaman.
Pakistanis reached the finals and played for the bronze by training in Pakistan alone, while wrestlers from other countries and their opponents were facilitated generously with tours and trainings abroad.
“I would have said that my greatest win was Commonwealth Games this time if I had won the gold medal, but maybe next time. I do feel we fell short because we did not get the same facilities and training as others,” said Zaman.