Or­chard: In­dian ex­pe­ri­ence is not just about money

The Hockey Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

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


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