OK! Pakistan sat down with the multi-talented Hissam Ali Hyder and the Commonwealth Team to talk about polo and winning the Coronation Cup



Prince Philip and Royal Salute’s Peter Moore presented the Coronation Cup to the Commonwealth team after they won the prestigious polo event. The Commonwealth team defeated England 12-11 in a thrilling game at the prestigious Guards Polo Club on the 23rd of July 2016. The Commonwealth team comprised polo players from different Commonwealth countries namely Hissam Ali Hyder (Pakistan), Fred Mannix (team Captain from Canada), Chris Mackenzie (South Africa) and John Paul Clarkin (New Zealand).


It is clear in conversation with Hissam Ali Hyder that he was destined to be the best in his field. Born in Lahore, Hyder has gained acclaim internationally and has a +6 goal handicap. He currently is the highest ranked polo player on the entire Asian polo circuit and has represented Pakistan in several tournaments over the decade. This year, Hyder represented Pakistan as part of the Commonwealth polo team which recently won the prestigious Royal Salute Coronation Cup against the English team. The Coronation Cup this year marked Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. He is also deeply invested in the world of polo and is on the board of directors at Guards Polo Club. Hyder is also a part of the HPA – Handicapping committee in England. Greatly admired world wide for his horsemanship; Hissam Ali Hyder is truly a force to be reckoned with.

What is it like being the first Pakistani polo player to have received such great international acclaim?
Hissam Ali Hyder : You know, I never really thought of it like that. Playing polo internationally is what I have done for the last 15 years, prior to that I started riding at three and playing at the age of eight. It was never easy, nothing ever is. I didn’t know I would become a professional polo player when I was younger, it just sort of ended up happening when I got my first job in Dubai at the age of 18. You have to work hard and put your everything into it, you need to start from the bottom, learn how to groom horses, know a horse inside out and then you get opportunities in which you can show your skill and get other bigger opportunities. To be acknowledged for your skill and hard work is a good feeling, especially internationally. It’s a fulfilling feeling, but you never really stop to think about it like that.


How did you get involved with the Guards Polo Club and being a Director of the club?
HAH: I was actually fortunate enough to have started playing in Guards when I first arrived in England, which is a big privilege being able to play in the biggest and best polo club in the world. As I mentioned earlier I have been here for 15 years, in those 15 years you build relationships, people get a good sense of your work ethic and this year I was appointed a Director which is a huge honour for me.


What did it feel like to be the first Asian to play ‘The Royal Salute Coronation Cup’?
HAH: It’s an indescribable feeling, it’s always something I wanted to do, but being a Pakistani, I didn’t know when I would get a chance to do that, as Pakistan doesn’t have enough players to make a high goal team. When I got a call to be on the Commonwealth team I was pretty ecstatic. It’s the highest level of polo I have played thus far and it is one of the biggest International tournaments in the world.


We hear that you had over a hundred of your own supporters and fans present at the Coronation Cup. How did it feel to have the crowd cheering for you?
HAH: My entire family flew in. Alyzeh, my wife was there, a lot of my friends were present – many of whom had come to England especially to watch the match. There were also many Pakistanis I didn’t know who were present. Everyone had a Pakistani flag in hand, there was so much support.

“Everyone was cheering and chanting, the ambiance was electrifying! It also put a lot of pressure on me to play the best I possibly could.”

It was also incredible to have so much support from people whom I have played in England with over the years, they all made it a point to be present.


What does it feel like to have a large support base?
HAH: It is actually the best feeling – better than winning. It made me so happy to see that at least 50% of the crowd had a Pakistani flag in hand, even my British friends and patrons were supporting the Commonwealth team. My German patron and friend, Thilo Sautcher’s son, Leander, came dressed like me in white polo jeans with a Pakistani flag embroidered on them and a Pakistan shirt, his daughters in worked jackets made in Pakistan. That was honestly one of the best parts of the match for me.

What is it like being a third generation polo player and coming from a background of great Pakistani polo players?
HAH: Well it means that polo has been in my family for almost a century now, my father is the President of the Lahore Polo Club, we are all crazy for the sport! We live, eat and breathe it, but I think for my wife, Alyzeh, who doesn’t come from a polo background she had to do an overnight crash course on polo! It’s a great game and you meet great people, so it is good fun. During the high season I play nearly everyday, two games a day sometimes, so whilst it can be challenging I wouldn’t have it any other way.


What was it like playing at the Coronation cup on the Queen’s 90th?
HAH: It was a great honour, and it was exceptionally special as it coincided with the Queen’s 90th! It was a very fast paced game so I was continuously on edge and totally focused throughout. We had practised as a team a fair bit prior to the game, but playing is always different. I had the best players from their respective countries on my team; Fred Mannix the team captain and best player from Canada at 8 goals, John Paul Clarkin at 7 goals from New Zealand and Chris Mackenzie at 6 goals from South Africa and the team work ended up being unbeatable!


Do you have any pre-match rituals or good luck charms?HAH: I watch Britain’s Got Talent, as it always gave me lots of inspiration. I always wear two different coloured socks, that definitely brings me good luck!

What is your work out regime and diet like?
HAH: I generally eat very healthy and I go for a run almost daily. Lately have been weight training as well. Your diet is everything though!


Who are the polo players you look up to?
HAH: Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres; the best players in the world! They are totally on top of their game and their organization is like no other.

What about your horses? How do you train them?
HAH: I have two amazing grooms, who take care of my horses and exercise them daily. Polo ponies are an amazing breed, they know how to get on the field and put on a show. They understand body language and move accordingly. Majority of the credit goes to them, especially when winning is involved. Looking after them well is everything for me.

How do you juggle your family life and your professional career?
HAH: I am lucky that Alyzeh travels with me and we can experience the world of polo together. I think it keeps things fun and interesting! We spend four to five months in Lahore a year, in which we hang around our family as well. It’s the perfect set up, to be in England for the best months of the year, go to South America and other fun countries, there are always things to look forward to.


Do you think being a good rider takes precedence over stick ball practice in training a polo player?
HAH: Riding should be like walking for you to be a good polo player, it is everything. Stick and ball practise is also very important because it keeps you ahead of the game!

Why do you love the sport of polo?
HAH: I love the lifestyle, the continuous change, we’re perpetually following the sun. We get the chance to interact with great people. Being around horses all the time is amazing.

You always support Pakistan even when it’s not playing directly for the country and on other teams, why?
HAH: I am a huge patriot, I love my country and the people here. They are genuine, kind and hardworking. I like to think of myself as a man of the masses. I think Pakistan has a lot of potential and it is because of this potential and belief that I like to fly the flag of Pakistan at every opportunity. In today’s complicated day and age, Pakistan doesn’t always have the best image and I try to make people understand that it’s not always what you see in the media. Pakistan has a lot to offer. I am forever rocking the flag on my jeans.


What was your feeling when you won?
HAH: It’s a great feeling to win because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and to bring the trophy home was a proud moment, not only for me but for polo in Asia in general because we don’t always get such opportunities to win in sport, and to be able to compete in such a high level game. I am very grateful for my win and have dedicated it to Abdul Sattar Edhi, in his honour. The man was an angel and his representation of our country is unbeatable.

Which achievements are you most proud of in polo?
HAH: In recent years winning the St. Moritz Snow Polo World Cup and winning the National Open in Pakistan seven times – the National Open is Pakistan’s most prestigious tournament. Getting to the final of the Royal Windsor, it is the toughest medium-goal tournament in the world.

What do you do when you’re not playing polo?
HAH: I love playing golf. I’m a massive sports junkie. I keep up with all sports 24/7. I also enjoy watching documentaries, movies, hanging around friends and family. To be honest, the polo lifestyle is pretty hectic, there is always something or the other going on so we stay pretty busy.

What is your advice to young players?
HAH: Train hard, work hard, be dedicated to the sport and stay humble! Hard work takes you a long way, as does consistency. There are no shortcuts in life, not in anything you do.

If it wasn’t for polo, what would you be doing?
HAH: I’d probably be playing some other sport, because I have grown up playing so many sports, or even working in the sports industry in some capacity. I’d definitely be in the food business as well, that’s one of the plans for the future for me actually.

Fred Mannix (Team Captain)

(8 Goals – Canada)


What were your initial reactions when the HPA first approached you to captain the Commonwealth team?
Fred Mannix: When the HPA invited me to captain the Comonwealth team I was absolutely thrilled to have been asked and given the honour to do so. It was an exciting moment for me and my family! I felt that it was a crystallisation of all the effort and determination that I have dedicated to polo so naturally I was very happy.

What was it like playing at the Coronation Cup on the Queen’s 90th?
FM: The day was absolutely perfect. I was a bit nervous to start which was a bit unusual for me but I guess the big day just got to me at the start. After a chukker and a half I settled into my game and I was really happy with the team’s attitude. We were all very positive towards one another and I believe this ‘team first’ mentality helped us in a big way. I can honestly say we will all be friends going forward which is pretty cool!

Do you have any pre-match rituals or good luck charms?
FM: I am always clean shaven. Makes me feel good and professional.

Who are the polo players you look up to?
FM: I have been lucky to have great mentorship during my career. Francisco Bensadon, Pite Merlos and Mariano Aguerre formed who I am today. They were field captains and gave me a lot of who I am today. I really am so lucky to have had them as teammates. Alegria’s coach, Clemente Zavaleta has also been instrumental in moluding me into the defensive player I am today. He is a great coach.

Do you think being a good rider takes precedence over stick ball practice in training a polo player?
FM: I believe that the two are both important but I would lean towards stick and balling and especially working with the foot mallet. Having the swing grooved and the muscle memory from using the foot mallet is essential for anyone to become a top player. All the 10 goalers, I am sure used the foot-mallet extensively as young players.

Why do you love the sport of polo?
FM: I love playing sports and polo has given me everything that I am today. Having horses be such an important part of the game gives me a lot of satisfaction when you are well mounted. Winning and organising the team requires dedication. It feels fantastic when you get it right.

How has the reception been of your success in your home country?
FM: Returning home I was met with a lot of hugs and congratulations. People were able to watch over the Internet and this helped allow a lot of the supporters to participate and in turn enjoy this great victory.

Chris Mackenzie

(6 Goals – South Africa)


What were your initial reactions when you received an invitation to play on the team?
Chris Mackenzie: Really excited! My favourite games are the ones where I get to play for my country. It is somehow so different when you are playing on a team in which everyone is playing for their country – it is so much more competitive and the victory means so much more.

What was it like playing at the Coronation Cup on the Queen’s 90th?
CM: Amazing. The crowd were very supportive, especially the Pakistan cheerers! Playing with so many other great polo players on such amazing grounds was truly memorable.

Do you have any pre-match rituals or good luck charms?
CM: I always say a prayer to God before the game to keep all the players and horses safe.

Who are the polo players you look up to?
CM: My dad. He accomplished so much through hard work in a short amount of time in the “polo world”. He started playing polo when he was 20, on horses he trained himself, and was six goals by the age of 30. Of course, Fecundo and Cambiaso are also an inspiration to all polo players.

Do you think being a good rider takes precedence over stick ball practice in training a polo player?
CM: They are both equally important. The especially good riders get more out of their horses than anyone else would, getting them to do incredible things. The especially talented/good with the ball players obviously keep the ball more easily. If you have both skills you have both sides of the spectrum to work with.

Why do you love the sport of polo?
CM: I love the horses. I love being able to work outdoors. I love the adrenaline and team work of the game. I enjoy the competition and the fact that there is always something new to learn and improve on.

How has the reception been of your success in your home country?
CM: Good. Any country will always be really proud of their citizens winning an international tournament. I think ours was especially exciting, because it was such a close, competitive game from start to finish.

What was your feeling when you won?
CM: PROUD of our team and over-the-moon that we have kept up the winning streak of team Commonwealth in the Coronation Cup.

John Paul Clarkin

(7 Goals – New Zealand)


What were your initial reactions when you received an invitation to play on the team?
John Paul Clarkin: I was very excited to first hear I could be part of the Commonwealth team on Coronation Cup day. Especially as I knew that we could put together a great team that would have a good chance to win the trophy.

What was it like playing at the Coronation Cup on the Queen’s 90th?
JPC: It is a great day to be part of and probably one of the biggest days in world polo at an international level and an amazingly spectacular trophy.

Do you have any pre-match rituals or good luck charms?
JPC: The only pre match rituals that I have are to prepare myself and my horses as best as possible to try to win.

Who are the polo players you look up to?
JPC: I look up to many of the top players current and past for different reasons. And I like to try to use some of these points to improve my own game.

Do you think being a good rider takes precedence over stick ball practice in training a polo player?
JPC: I think it takes equal parts riding and stick and ball to be a good player. But certainly starting out I think that riding is the greater part as you need to be able to control your horse and direct it exactly where and when you want with the least difficulty.

Why do you love the sport of polo?
JPC: I love polo because it involves different abilities to do well. Riding, hand eye coordination, speed, team work, agility. Every game is different and tactics are very important too.

How has the reception been of your success in your home country?
JPC: To be honest it is not that well known at home about the success yet but I look forward to spreading the word when I return to New Zealand in October. But I know the New Zealand Polo Association and many people will be happy with the news especially as New Zealand has a very strong rivalry with England on any sporting field.

What was your feeling when you won?
JPC: Great satisfaction was my first thought that we had won and achieved our goal as a team. And I was very happy with the way the team played and how we got organised for the day especially as we had never played together as a team before.

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