Colin Batch brings his in-form Australian Men’s Hockey team to Bhubaneswar as one of the overwhelming favourites to lift the World Cup. Looking for a three-peat, the reigning champions have had a remarkable year so far, winning the Commonwealth Games gold and the Champions Trophy.
In an exclusive interview with The Dragflick, the Australian Men’s Hockey coach opens up about his team’s preparations, the decline of drag-flick conversions in world hockey and his expectations from the Hockey World Cup 2018 Tournament.
The Dragflick: There are a lot of young faces in your squad. It’s uncommon to see that in an Australian Men’s Hockey team going into a big tournament. What do you make of your team?
Colin Batch: It’s true, yeah. Some, of course, played in the last World Cup but there are many more new faces. We’ve made some changes to the team that played in the Rio Olympics but by and large, it’s a good mixture of younger players and some good experienced ones.
I am happy with the team. I think the younger players will perform well. They’ve played and performed well this year, so I am confident they will stand up.
DF: What’s been your focus in training in the build up to the Hockey World Cup?
CB: We’ve been working on the conversion of our penalty corners. It was very good at the World League Finals in Bhubaneswar last year, but we haven’t had so much success in tournaments this year. So, we’ve been doing some work on improving that side of the game.
But it’s of course not the only way of scoring goals. We have also done a lot of goal shooting training and work inside the circle to make sure we create some more field goals.
And, of course, defensively we have constantly focused on our tackling and marking. We have improved in those two aspects and generally have defended well. We have a good defensive unit.
DF: You mentioned the decline in penalty corner conversion. That seems to be a concern for a lot of teams. Is it because most defences are beginning to sort out the drag-flickers?
CB: Yeah, I think it’s getting harder and harder from the corners. I think we have seen the percentages of success decline since Rio Olympics, so I think that is a fair comment to make. Teams must find different ways of scoring and hence, field goals are attractive and necessary. If one’s not working, you have to go to the other option for success.
DF: How tough is it for you to remain the best in the world after all the changes in the playing and coaching group since Rio Olympics?
CB: It is challenging to be at the top of the sport all the time. (But) We’ve still got a lot to improve on. So, while we are number 1 in the world, we have got things to improve to make sure we are good enough. That’s one of the challenges for us to make sure we are at a good standard and we can perform at this very important tournament.
We know other teams will do well at the Hockey World Cup. I think India at home will be a very difficult prospect. The Netherlands are playing well… But if I look at the pool that we’re in, we’ve got Ireland first up and they’ve had some success this year. We also have England both these teams have new coaches. Then we have China, so we’ve got to make sure to secure our position in the next round from these three matches.
DF: The level of competition in international hockey has improved a lot in recent years. Is there a reason for that?
CB: Opportunities, I think. There are a lot of tournaments now… and well-funded programmes have enabled more and more players to play and train all-year round. If you’ve got a group that’s training together regularly then you’ll improve.
You’re seeing more and more teams doing that now. There was a time when that wasn’t quite the case and with the format of the tournament, with four pools and three go through to the next round, there’s more responsibility to play well in each game to make sure you stay in the tournament.
DF: So, do you foresee another surprise final, like we saw at the Rio Olympics?
CB: You’d assume that Belgium and Argentina, who played the Olympic final, would still be very good. But we have played both teams this year and Argentina has beaten us a few times, so we expect them to be very good. And Belgium have had a sustained period at the top level. It’s exciting that anything can happen.
DF: What are you expecting from this Hockey World Cup?
CB: Well, some upsets for sure! The teams are close to each other in terms of quality so upsets, yeah… I hope it doesn’t happen to Australia, though!
The Kookaburras, who are 2010 and 2014 World Cup champions, are grouped with Ireland (ranked 10th), England (seventh) and China (17th) in Pool B will be led by co-captains Aran Zalewski and Eddie Ockenden.
Their first game is against Ireland on November 30.