The Australian men are back at the Commonwealth Games and aiming for their fourth straight field hockey gold medal in New Delhi.
Since the inception of field hockey in the Commonwealth Games in 1998, Australia’s men have lost only one match on their way to three gold medals. The Kookaburras also won the last World Cup at the same venue in New Delhi that will be used this month, the Dhayan Chand Stadium.
“We have had some great results over the past 20 months or so; however, I still believe we are not solid yet and still have much to do,” said Australia coach Ric Charlesworth, who has guided the Kookaburras to victory in every major tournament since his appointment last year. “I have full confidence in the team we have selected as it has a good amount of experience and youth.”
The Australian women are also defending champions at the games, and are trying to give soon-to--retire coach Frank Murray a winning send off. India and England will be the ones with the best chance to dislodge the Australians from the top.
“Saying goodbye to a head coach is something that you want to do to the best of your ability,” Australia captain Madonna Blyth said, “and for us that means winning gold and sending him out on a positive, winning note.”
Although 11 members of the men’s squad will be playing in their first Commonwealth Games, Australia will still have the experienced Jamie Dwyer and Liam de Young to guide the team against India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Scotland in Pool A.
Dwyer has won gold at the previous three Commonwealth Games, and De Young was there when Australia finished at the top in Melbourne four years ago.
“We have great squad depth, which is obviously what we are building towards; however, it means that players need to make the most of their opportunities and the Commonwealth Games will give these players a chance to do that on a very big international stage,” Charlesworth said.
But the team’s No. 1 ranking is something which, according to Charlesworth, gives teams like England, Pakistan and host India an “incentive” to do well against Australia.
“England are very capable of beating us, as we saw at the World Cup,” Charlesworth said. “India and Pakistan will be at home in the heat of Delhi, and the reduced squad sizes makes things less predictable.”
World Cup semifinalist England will have brothers Richard and Simon Mantell in the squad when it faces New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobago in Pool B.
The English lost to Australia in the Champions Trophy final, but they are a serious contender to improve on their semifinal appearance from four years ago. England was fifth at the 2002 Manchester Games and took bronze at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games.
“England is for sure one of the emerging teams in world hockey and the skill level of their forwards is as good as any other team,” Pakistan hockey analyst Zakir Hussain Syed said.
Host India, the former Olympic heavyweight in the sport, has a poor record at the Commonwealth Games. The team finished fourth in Kuala Lumpur, didn’t compete in Manchester and then took sixth in Melbourne. However, with home support, the Indians could threaten the likes of Malaysia and Pakistan to sneak through to the semifinals.
Pakistan had a terrible World Cup — the team finished last among the 12 teams — but captain Zeeshan Ashraf is back to lead the side.