Former Australian Captain Mark Knowles recalls his playing days, makes his predictions for the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023
As the clock ticks closer to the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023, with less than 100 days to go, Hockey India launches Favourite World Cup Memory which will bring hockey fans unknown facts, fun anecdotes and special moments for hockey stars around the world who have achieved the pinnacle at this prestigious event in the previous years.
Our series picks up with the inimitable Mark Knowles, part of the of the Australian team who won the World Cup in 2010 in New Delhi at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium, and then Captained the Kookaburras who retained the title in 2014 at the Kyocera Stadion in The Hague, Netherlands. And before those two momentous tournaments, Knowles began his World Cup journey with a Silver in Germany in 2006.
One of the most decorated players in modern day field hockey, Mark Knowles, who was part of an Australian team that was ranked first for more than 10 years during his career, said his first big heartbreak and first World Cup memory was in 2006 in Mönchengladbach.
In 2010, the Australians, Knowles noted, felt quietly confident about changing the colour of the medal.
“We felt like we could do something special at that World Cup in March 2010 and what many people forget is we started with the loss to Great Britain. When people potentially might write you off after the first game of the tournament, that was something our team, I guess for me, being one of the leaders of that group was very proud of,” Knowles said.
“For me it was one of those moments where I wondered if we’ll get a chance to right the wrongs of four years before. And at that time in the final in an amazing stadium in Delhi with an absolute jam-packed crowd, we we’re able to get over the Germans, that was the first time in a big Final. So, it was a really big moment and as I said, we hadn’t won the World Cup since 1986 as an Australian men’s team, so an extremely, extremely special moment for me.”
In 2014, at The Hague, in what was a dual gender World Cup, Knowles explained that the Australian team had their blinkers on and were on a mission. He further added that the Kookaburras were at the peak of their powers, at the time.
“The way that we conducted ourselves as a team, the relentless pressure that we put on oppositions. It was something that maybe I hadn’t been part of throughout my career and 15 years playing for Australia.”
With three Olympic medals to go alongside the World Cup ones, Knowles touched upon what it takes to be among the most dangerous units in the sport. The Australian, who has played more than 300 games at the highest level, has also pocketed five Champions Trophy medals (4 Gold and 1 Silver) and 4 more Gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, with the last podium finish coming in his own backyard during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
“At the highest level you cannot afford to go up and down, and the best teams, they don’t go against their opposition and I think that’s what Belgium and Australia are doing at the moment.They’re playing the exact same level of international winning standard hockey against whoever they play, and I reckon that’s what will make the World Cup winner in 2023. In India, I think it’ll be the team who plays most consistently across the tournament,” he said.
‘India hard to beat on home soil’: Knowles
While Mark Knowles, who has been retired for several years now, will no longer be on the team sheet at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023 in January, the former Australian skipper insisted that he will be keeping a close eye on proceedings. Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, India, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, England, France, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Chile, Wales are the 16 teams, who will be competing in the tournament. Knowles believes there’s no clear favourite for the coveted trophy this time around.
“Realistically, I believe that any of the top seven or eight teams in the world could win the World Cup. I think the top, the top two in my eyes are still Belgium and Australia. But they’re followed very, very closely by the India Men’s Hockey Team, who on home soil, of course, are extremely hard to beat in front of passionate fans.”
“The Dutch, the Germans, Argentina, Spain, England, certainly right up there. I think international hockey is as tight as it’s ever been and so I expect a very, very close tournament.”
“And I expect absolutely amazing fans. We love the noise, it’s something that hockey doesn’t get enough of. And you know it’s one of the reasons why I think the players will enjoy again going to India and playing in front of big crowds,” he signed off.