Orchard: Indian experience is not just about money
THE Hockey India League allows me to earn more money in six weeks of competition than in an entire year of training and playing for the Australian national team. I was sold at auction second time around for roughly A$80,000 (£48,000) which, for a hockey player was beyond imaginable only a few short years ago.
I am heading to India again on Sunday – I cost a little bit less this time around – but I am still over the moon, especially as many of my close mates have been picked up by various teams.
The league has a similar set-up to the lucrative India Premier League cricket competition. Each player nominated for the tournament goes to auction, and prices range from as low as US$2,000 for the entire tournament, to last year’s record price of US$105,000 for German talisman Moritz Furste. This time he will rejoin the Kalinga Lancers, who were runners-up in 2016.
Gurbaj Singh became the most expensive Indian player in HIL history in the recent closed auction, pocketing US$99,000 from the Ranchi Rays. Singh will join Englishmen Ashley Jackson ($95,000) and Barry Middleton ($67,000) at the two-time champions this season, the team which is co-owned by cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
To put it all in perspective, I would say an Australian men’s hockey player would earn somewhere between $35-$40,000 a year for being a part of the national programme. Many players are enticed overseas by big-money European offers, but these same guys can now earn more playing in India for six weeks then they can 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 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. That was always a gripe of Ric Charlesworth. Not that players went abroad, because he always understood the need to earn an income and he appreciated the benefits of playing hockey in a strong competition overseas.
However, he always wished we didn’t have to. Imagine how good we would be if we trained together day in, day out, all year round, he thought? I didn’t necessarily agree, but could see his point.
Staying in Perth also means we can play club hockey in the local competitions, 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, and it’s great to spend time with people outside the Hockey Australia bubble.
Being in Perth more often can also help develop and nurture future Kookaburras. The team are almost an institution in Western Australia and have been based here for so long that many kids have grown up watching them train and play. This continued relationship, if nurtured properly, can only inspire the Kookaburras of tomorrow.
Finally, we can put more time, effort and energy into our endeavours off the field, be that work or study. Hockey might pay the bills now, but it won’t forever. For many, including me, the next chapter of our lives isn’t that far away.
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.
I always enjoy riding in a cab or a bus through the beautiful city of Mumbai. There is constant ‘chatter’. Car horns are blaring, you’re taking in the sights and sounds of one of the worlds most populated cities, and then BANG, your cab driver nudges into the car in front of him. “No worries,” he says.
Jackhammers are pounding as another section of the concrete jungle is slowly being erected. The scaffolding looks like it couldn’t withstand a stiff breeze let alone the weight of 50 men. Dogs are limping and barking, while the worst thing we see are the kids begging in the streets. Some are so small that only their outstretched hands make it to the car window.
One little girl was dislocating her shoulders and using her arms as some kind of skipping rope. A cow slowly weaved in and out of oncom- ing traffic without a care in the world.
We travel across the country in what is a non-stop six weeks. I’ll never forget a few interesting moments in Lucknow. Before our 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 remember walking back out onto the pitch and seeing a full-scale brawl erupt in the crowd. I asked the technical official if we would be calling the game off but he just turned and said: “I think that’s a Punjab supporter, play on.” 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.
There are a few similarities between our countries though. Both 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.
These guys can earn more playing in India for six weeks then they can in Europe for six months
Top of the world: The Indian Junior Hockey World Cup trophy after their final victory over Belgium