Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Hockey India League - The New Face of Hockey?

Hi hockey friends,

Now that the dust has settled on the 2014 edition of the Hockey India League (HIL) it’s about time I fill you in on all the excitement. I’ve had a few weeks to reminisce and collect my thoughts and have finally managed to put it all down on paper…so to speak…and today you’ll get my take on everything HIL and everything India.

The HIL is a groundbreaking concept. Six teams from all over the country battled it out over six weeks of high octane, highlight reel hockey. It’s promoted as ‘the way hockey should be played’. Loud music. Big crowds. Noisy crowds! DJ’s at every field. Television cameras capturing all the action from every angle. And most importantly, world class talent on the pitch. Players from Germany, Holland, Spain, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Malaysia and England all take part and with each successful year, the hype spreads to players from other countries who hope to take part in future installments.

The league itself has a similar setup to the lucrative India Premier League cricket competition. Originally there was a live auction held over an entire day where each player who had nominated for the tournament was put under the hammer. It was quite a bizarre feeling watching the powerbrokers of each franchise mull over a potentially life altering process for me and plenty of my Australian teammates. I ended up being sold to the Jaypee Punjab Warriors.

The Jaypee Group owns the franchise and they are India's third largest cement producer and the countries largest private sector hydropower company. It was founded by Jaiprakash Gaur and does business in Engineering & Construction, Power, Cement, Real Estate, Hospitality, Expressways, IT, Sports & even Education (not-for-profit). We’ve had the honor of meeting Jaiprakash before and it is clear he is not just a silent investor. He loves hockey, he loves the Punjab people and he loves his Warriors.

Australian Barry Dancer is head coach and our marquee player is none other than Jamie Dwyer. We have, in my opinion, the best player in the world in Mark Knowles, the best goalkeeper in the world in Jaap Stockmann and the best drag flicker in the world in Sandeep Singh. We are based out of Mohali, which is in India’s north and finished 4th in last year’s tournament whilst being runners-up this year. Our group is a mixture of young and old, Indian and foreign, talented and supremely talented and developing relationships with these other hockey players has been one of the highlights of my two years so far.

I was sold at auction for roughly $50,000AUD, which for a hockey player was beyond imaginable only a few short years ago. I was over the moon and even more so to see many of my close mates also get picked up by various teams. The hockey landscape had been instantly altered on one December day in 2012.

To put it all in perspective, I would say an Australian men’s hockey player would earn somewhere between $35-$40,000/year for being a part of the national program. The HIL allows me to earn more money over six weeks of competition in India then I do for an entire year training and playing for the national team. Many players are enticed overseas to big money European offers, but these same guys can now earn more money playing in India for six weeks then they could playing in Europe for six months. The money is fantastic, but of course this is not why we play the game. So what else does the HIL allow us to do?

It also has a flow on effect for hockey in Australia as we can now afford to stay based in Perth and train more often with the national squad. This has always been a gripe of Ric Charlesworth. Not that we go overseas, he has always understood the need for us to earn an income and he appreciates the benefits of playing hockey in a strong competition overseas. But he wishes we didn’t have to. Imagine how good we would be if we trained together day in, day out, all year round he thinks? And I agree with him to an extent.

Staying in Perth also means we can play club hockey in the local Perth competition, which is so important to me. I love being a part of the Fremantle Magpies Hockey Club. They have a very positive and infectious club culture. They bleed black and white. They are passionate and play with intensity and intent that breeds toughness and builds character. I have felt like I belong since the day I was drafted there and love nothing more than knocking back a few beers with them after each hard fought game.

Basing ourselves here can also help develop and nurture future Kookaburras in the local area. Not only in the Fremantle area but all around Perth. The Kookaburras are almost an institution in W.A. The team has been based here for so long that many kids have grown up watching the team train and play around the area for years. This continued relationship, if nurtured properly, can only inspire the Kookaburras of tomorrow.

Finally, we can put more time, effort and energy into our endeavors off the field as well, be that work or study. Hockey doesn’t pay the bills, or hasn’t until the HIL kicked off. But that’s no reason to stop developing our lives off the field. For many, the next chapter of our lives isn’t that far away.

It’s also interesting to look at how the HIL can affect Indian hockey. When will India start seeing improved results for the national team? I predict it is still many years away. Many of the Indian players are very raw and their knowledge of the game is only in its infancy. Some possess the best stick skills I have ever seen, however they do not know how to run an attacking press? They play old school positions like left wing, centre forward and right wing without much movement or flexibility. This is vital as I believe world hockey is going through a period of change. And in an era where players are becoming position less, the Indian team has a lot to learn. They are traditionalists and therefore rarely explore these options, which may be a reason why they are struggling to make progress on the world stage. They are improving though, and god help us when they finally work it all out. They are the sleeping giants of world hockey.

So whichever way you look at it, the HIL is clearly a huge game changer and I am so appreciative to be given an opportunity to be involved. The first two seasons have been a raging success and with talk of new teams, new players and new innovations I am sure it will continue to thrive for many years to come.

Before I go, below are some thoughts I jotted down whilst in India last month. I talk about the Indian country, it’s people and it’s culture and although it’s a little random and done in the past tense, I think you’ll find it interesting. 

Enjoy, you’ll hear from me again real soon!
Orch

Words sometimes cannot describe what it’s like to be in India. As soon as you get out of the airport, your body goes into sensory overload. It’s hot, smelly, dirty, dusty, loud, colourful – it blows you away! It’s shocking, polluted, energetic, crowded but so interesting and fun.

Riding in a cab or a bus through the beautiful city of Mumbai was a highlight for me on this trip. There is constant ‘chatter’ around the city. Car horns are blaring and then BANG, our cab driver nudges into the car in front of him. No worries he says. Jackhammers are pounding as another concrete jungle is slowly being erected. The scaffolding looks like it couldn’t withstand a stiff breeze let alone 50 men’s weight. Dogs are barking, most of which are limping or missing a leg due to some kind of car ploughing into them. And probably the worst thing we see is the kids that are begging in the streets. Some so small that only their outstretched hands make it to the car window. One little girl is dislocating her shoulders and using her arms as some kind of skipping rope. A cow slowly weaves in and out of oncoming traffic without a care in the world.

Before yesterdays match I went to the hotel restaurant for lunch. I ate a plate consisting of rice, some curry sauce and 2 potatoes. Before the match I went to the toilet and the floor of the bathroom was flooded with water, with mosquitoes buzzing around everywhere. The toilet paper was soaking wet and to make matters worse, the toilet seat wasn’t even connected to the toilet itself. Shit, literally!

I’ve been in India for just over three weeks now and although I have been here a few times before, it never ceases to amaze me. The people, the food and the culture in general are all remarkably different to what we have back in Australia.

The Indian people are brilliant. They seem to cherish what they have and although many of them have little, a smile - the universal currency - is only ever a wave or funny face away. They celebrate occasions that many take for granted and are probably amongst the friendliest people I have ever met.

The Indian food is a spicy and a flavourful smack in the face . Each day it feels like we are playing Russian Roulette, just waiting for something to go down the wrong way. Every morning when the foreigners arrive for breakfast I do a quick count and almost breath a sigh of relief knowing that a bad piece of mutton hasn’t taken one of the boy’s down.

The Indian culture is intriguing but largely an unknown for me. I have already spent a few hours with my Punjab teammates and coaches learning about India’s rich history and how different religions shape the Indian way of life. Most of the team prays before each session, Chris Ciriello has even started doing this?? And they chant when we leave the hotel for each match. Some of the boy’s adhere to Sikhism, some Islam and some Hinduism but they all get along famously.

There are a few similarities between our countries though. Both countries absolutely love cricket and if I briefly compare India to Perth where I am based most of the year, both places show a blatant disregard for road rules of any kind. Perth drivers are shocking but peak hour in Delhi is like playing the old game Frogger…but with many, many more cars.


I am really enjoying it here, but I can’t wait to get home to everything I love about Australia. The food, the ocean, the road rules, the Kookaburras, my house, my girlfriend, my mates and my way of life!

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