Ashley Jackson is the ‘English’ version of Sardar Singh – an immensely talented hockey player who excels in the midfield besides hustling forward or rushing back in defence whenever needed. He is one of the few attacking mid-fielders around, who is a potent drag-flicker (normally in world hockey fullbacks are known to be drag-flick experts).
Jackson is a vital cog in the England men’s hockey team. The 2009 FIH Young Player of the Year has represented his country in three Olympics – 2004, 2008 and 2012.
The 26-year-old hockey star made his senior international debut against the Netherlands in 2006. The crafty midfielder has made 15 international appearances and scored 82 international goals.
Jackson is recuperating from ankle surgery and is expected to be back in competitive action soon. The nippy hockey player, who plays for the East Grinstead hockey club, spoke to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.
Q You underwent a surgery on your long-troubling ankle injury. You helped your country qualify for the 2014 World Cup by playing in the Hockey World League(HWL) Round 3 event in Johor Bahru and gave the TriFinance Eurohockey Championship a miss. Was it a conscious decision on your part to play the HWL and then have your surgery done?
Yes, of course it was. I needed to undergo this surgery shortly after returning home from India, so it was a case of ‘when’ was the best time to do it. Obviously, the Hockey World League was very important as we qualified for the 2014 World Cup – so that took priority over the European Championships. It was disappointing to miss the European Championships as it is always a fun tournament to play in and the venue in Boom was fantastic.
Q How sooner do you think you can return to competitive action?
I hoping to return to some form of hockey training this month, which is a lot quicker recovery than what I first expected.
Q Belgium is showing signs of changing the world hockey order with repeated wins over big teams like Netherlands, Australia and Germany among others. Your thoughts.
Belgium are going through a good phase at the moment, similar to what we went through in 2009 when we became the European Champions beating Holland and Germany along the way………what were you saying about us at that time?
Q What according to you is Belgium doing differently in terms of preparation and coaching in achieving so much success lately?
I believe after the 2012 Olympics they went into a more regular training schedule with the national team and new coach. They also have a large group of players that have been around for a long time, so I would say that the group is reaching its peak.
Q You were instrumental in helping the Ranchi Rhinos win the inaugural Hero Hockey India League. How was your India experience?
The HIL was a fantastic experience, obviously winning was great fun. We had by far the best fans hands down and it was amazing to play the semifinal and final in Ranchi. It was great to play with the team and learn so much from all different cultures all over the world. I’m very much looking forward to helping our team retain the title in 2014.
Q The Indian team has won eight Olympic gold medals, but has been on a downhill for long, finishing with a wooden spoon at the 2012 London Olympics. What’s your take?
India have all very talented players when it comes to dribbling and shooting, but they are very much behind everyone when it comes to playing as a team and for each other. They lack the tactical side of things and general team play which is why foreign coaches are the only way forward. When we were at the HIL we held a small clinic for one of the local schools, it was truly amazing seeing what the kids both boys and girls could do, they were light years ahead of any other nation at that age, the coach there walked over and said ‘do you think they need to improve, is it there touch and skills?’
We nearly choked, the answer was simple it was their understanding of the game, how to play together how to defend together, attack together play as a team and how to pass to each other. That combined with what the kids could do was honestly scary for every other hockey nation.
Q Do you see enough young talents emerge from the Hero HIL?
Yes, we had many of them in the Ranchi Rhinos team. Mandeep Singh, Vikram, Barinda and Manpreet Singh to name a few. Every one was very talented in its one way, but they are young talents and cannot be expected to be game-changers in the international scene after one HIL. You got to give them time to grow as players and with right coaching around they will no doubt be game-changers.
Q Which players of the current Indian team have impressed you the most and why?
Obviously Sardar Singh is a very talented player, but he has to do far too much and all at the wrong end of the pitch. Manpreet Singh – our game winner in the HIL final – was very impressive and I hope he gets the chance to really play freely in the national team as he is a great player.
Q India have employed various foreign coaches over a period of time. Roelant Oltmans has now taken over from Michael Nobbs recently. Do you think foreign coaches can lift the fortunes of the Indian team?
Yes, I think that is the only way to go. They need to have a proper structure in place and focus on adopting a modern technology ranging from strength and conditioning to video sessions, which will only come from the European or Australia/New Zealand/South Africa coaches, then within that Indians’ natural flair and skills will set them apart from the rest.
Q Your are probably one of the rare midfielder/strikers who is so good at unleashing drag-flicks from penalty corner routine since fullbacks are usually known to master this art. You must be a captain’s delight?
I will leave that for our captain to answer……..
Q Who will be the strong contenders for the 2014 World Cup?
It will be the same names, Germany, Australia and obviously the Dutch will be very tough to beat in the Hague. We will be pushing hard to close the gap at the top as will Belgium.
Q Do you think enough money is pouring into the sport with the advent of different hockey leagues across the globe or you think hockey has a long way to go in terms of being a money-spinner?
HIL has taken hockey to a whole new level and I hope it grows bigger and bigger each year. It will be nice if other leagues around the world could compete, but I can see that happening anytime soon.
Q What do you when you are not playing hockey?
I mostly play golf.
Q How do you think about the future of Hero Hockey India League – do you think it can strengthen the supply line of players for the national team of all countries?
I don’t think it will strengthen the supply line for any other nation than India as only the top players from other countries will get to play in the league. It will, however, give players the chance to play in a fantastic league and have a great experience. I hope the league grows and grows, I loved the hectic schedule we had game after game after game.