'Defence key to our success'

'Defence key to our success'

Knowles targets Olympic gold

'Defence key  to our success'
For years Mark Knowles has been an integral part of the Australian setup. His vision, defensive solidity and big-match temperament have spurred the Kookaburras’ during their run as the best hockey side in the world. Defence, Knowles acknowledged, has stepped up to the plate even as the team tries to cope with a fading frontline.

“Our attack has been our strength for long. But off late, with most of our top players retiring and some out injured, the defence has stepped up,” said Knowles, the most experienced defender in the Australian camp at the Hockey World League Finals.

“Now the Australian way (of play) is about pressure, a solid defence and a free-flowing attack. If you look at the past 2-3 years of the Australian men’s team, it’s the defence that won us the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games,” he continued.

On an individual front Knowles has had an impressive season. Starting the year by being named the FIH player of the year, Knowles played a vital role in his side’s win at the Hockey World League Semifinal in Antwerp, Belgium.

“It’s been pretty good. I have been performing pretty consistently. My leadership is something that I am working on right now. Being one of the senior members of the team, I have to lead by example and for that I need be to very consistent,” said the Aussie skipper.

Being a part of the Australian side that won the gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and finished third at the Beijing (2008) and the London (2012) Games, Knowles said that's a record the Kookaburras would look to set straight at the Rio Games.

“Yes, it was disappointing (to lose out on the gold medal at the Beijing and London Olympics). We will look to turn that around. We want to come better. No one wants to come third. Specially being Australia, third is not expectable,” remarked Knowles.

Knowles said a fine show at tournaments like the Hockey World League would help them in knowing where the side stands as compared to the other big names in the game. “We always prepare to exceptionally high level. The thing we need to do is challenge ourselves in big matches and that’s why we like playing top teams in the world. And here, semifinals and the final is something we need to play here to learn how to play under pressure. It will help us know where we stand,” he said.

Being the best side in the world could also mean pressure of expectation in big-ticket tournaments like that the Olympics. But Knowles thought otherwise.

“We don’t think so. We have been number one for a long time now. It’s just that people expect us to win every time we play. We know that we are a good team, a very hard side to beat when we are at our absolute best and that’s a nice confidence going into the Rio Games,” he pointed out.

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