Mark Knowles is one of the most prominent names in world hockey and has won a host of international honours with the Kookaburras. He is a three-time Olympic medalist, with a gold at Athens 2004, a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist, a World Cup winner and a two-time Champions Trophy winner as well.
He made his debut for Australia in 2003 and has amassed a whopping 218 international caps so far. He was named FIH World Player of the Year in 2014 and is a part of the Jaypee Punjab Warriors side in the ongoing season of the Hockey India League (HIL), who will take on the Delhi Waveriders on Tuesday in what will be both sides’ fourth clash in the tournament.
Prior to the match, he spoke about a wide variety of topics – from the quality of the HIL, Australia’s forgettable performance at Rio last year and keeping in shape to compete at the top level at 32 years of age. Here are a few excerpts!
Q: Your side are second from bottom in the points table as three teams finished their home matches and have played seven games. You have played fewer matches but must feel the pressure of being behind. How do you deal with it?
A: It [pressure] is there, but we’re very experienced and seasoned players. The most important thing as a player is going out and enjoying every game. We went to Mumbai for the first game and it was amazing. Then, we went to Ranchi and then Kalinga (Bhubaneshwar), where the atmosphere was electric and the fans were amazing. And now we’re in Delhi and looking forward to another great game. For us, it is about using our experience, keeping a calm head and guiding the youngsters through such situations.
Q: Australia won the 2014 World Cup comfortably but then didn’t do well in Rio. They have been unable to maintain the same form and dominance in the last two years. Why do you think this is happening?
A: Rio was very disappointing, no doubt! It was certainly a hard pill to swallow. In world hockey, everyone is getting better and the gap between teams is getting closer. This can be seen from the Olympic final itself, where the World No. 7 (Argentina) beat the number six team (Belgium), which is something that has never happened before.
We are still doing well – we won the World League title in 2015 in Raipur and the Champions Trophy (in the UK) before the Olympics. So, we were good enough.
Unfortunately, we weren’t at our best in the quarter-final (against the Netherlands). There are no second chances if you don’t turn up in such games, for four years. But the important thing is that you have to learn and you have to move on. That’s why we’re here for the HIL, to improve and start the year with a high-quality tournament.
Q: You are one of the most senior figures in the Australian setup and in world hockey. Do you think players are able to play for a longer period of time than before? Why so?
A: Definitely! One of the reasons is this league (HIL). Eight years ago, players were retiring at 30-31 because of lack of opportunities and access to high-quality competition. 10-15 years ago, we Aussies would have loved to have such a league going on.
On the other hand, we have players like Jamie Dwyer playing in the Olympics at 37! It is thanks, in part, to the HIL, as we get to play at a high level more regularly and also, we get to be around world-class players, try to improve and pick up things from them.
Q: How do you stay in shape at this point in your career? It must be much harder now to keep match fit.
A: It surely gets harder once you get older. But at the same time, you also become smarter. You develop different ways to train, for example, I don’t have to do as much distance running as the younger guys. I have to reduce the risk of injury, so I also have to do stuff like yoga and pilates.
The recovery sessions are of higher levels now, which is why most of the time it’ll be the senior players leading them. Not because we love it, but because we need it! (laughs)
Q: Lastly, would you like to see leagues similar to the HIL in Australia?
A: We would love that! At the moment, the Indian league is leading the way along with the European league. In Australia, we would love to have an Asian league, where along with the young Aussies, we can have players from India, Malaysia, New Zealand, and other such nations.
The problem is finding a time slot for the league in the calendar since our schedule is already quite packed. There is no window yet, but the players are improving and growing in number as they are motivated to play in leagues such as the HIL.