Having endured a “disappointing” Rio Olympics, world champions Australia are currently on a rebuilding process under a new coach Colin Batch and the Hockey World League Final is their first step towards reclaiming their numero uno position in world hockey.
Captain and the team’s most experienced player 33-year-old Mark Knowles, with 305 international caps, knows the pain of “underachieving” at last year’s Olympics, a competition where they went as world no. 1 side, only to finish a disappointing sixth.
“It was a massive disappointment for us. We were in the no.1 team in the world and we really underachieved (in Olympics). There is a range of different thing that every
sporting team goes through. Winning and losing is one thing but there is so much to high-performance sports,” said Knowles about their last Olympics’ showing.
With one gold, three silver and as many as five bronze medals, Australia hold a good record in the quadrennial event. “We didn’t really play well in the key moments of the
tournament (Olympics). We allowed some losses to get on top of us too much. The most important thing is we got to the quarterfinals and from there we didn’t play really well. There were individual faults.
“It was a group where we weren’t really good enough. In tournaments like Olympics and the World Cup those small moments can become very big and that’s what happened to our group,” said the veteran.
Knowles is aware of the close gap between teams in modern day hockey and also relishes the mentorship role in the team. “It’s a developing and young group. I am the most senior player and that is something I enjoy. I love that responsibility. For me it’s about passing on experience about playing on such an amazing stadium in front of a good crowd. I also know that as a player I have to play well,” he said.
“Top 8-9 teams in the world are so close. We saw in Rio no.7 team in the world beat no.6. The margin of error today is very small.” Australia have been India’s nemesis in the last few years having beaten them on almost all occasions, but Knowles said the Kookaburras won’t take the home team lightly.
“We normally play important matches at a very high level and India are one of our biggest rivals. They are our Commonwealth rival and they are our world rival now,” he said. Asked about their preparation and mental frame of mind before facing India, against whom they have registered convincing wins in the past couple of years, Knowles said: “No definitely not (don’t take India lightly).
The games we played against India were important games. We played them in last Commonwealth Games final, we played them in the World Cup, the Champions Trophy final. We played them numerous times and India are one of the teams against whom we played well.
“If you look at our records against a team like Holland in the last 10 years, it is very similar. As I said we love playing the best teams and that’s what Kookaburras’ mentality has been like for long period of time. That’s the same mentality under the new coach (Batch). That’s what he is trying to get back after not so good performance in Rio,” he added.