Ashley Jackson: ‘I enjoy playing good hockey'

"International hockey is now really tough. Now nine or 10 teams can win medals in top tournaments. It is very tough and very physical," says the English hockey star, Ashley Jackson, who plays for Ranchi Rays in the Hockey India League.

“The four-quarter format has pushed up the pace of the game. Each match is now of 60 minutes and there are more breaks. So the speed and pace of the game has gone up. it does get faster and faster and faster, and it is getting physical. It is more difficult to umpire as well,” says Ashley Jackson.   -  Getty Images

For Ashley Jackson, Ranchi is home away from home. Playing for Ranchi Rays in the Hockey India League, the all-rounder — who can command the midfield, defend solidly, score goals upfront and convert penalty corners with equal ease — has been entertaining fans every year and has carved a place for himself in their hearts.

Every time Jackson enters the opposition half with the ball, the entire Astroturf Stadium in Ranchi erupts into loud cheers. Placards reading ‘Handsome Jackson’ in the stands are proof of the popularity of the Briton in the capital of Jharkhand.

Sportstar caught up with Jackson, 29, for his views on various aspects of the HIL and world hockey.

Excerpts:

Question: Hockey has become more competitive in recent times. Earlier, teams from the upper half of the Top-10 in the world used to win all the elite events. Now, teams from the bottom half such as India and Argentina have improved and are winning medals. How challenging is the situation?

Answer: International hockey is now really tough. You are talking about the big three teams — Australia, Holland and Germany. Now nine or 10 teams can win medals in top tournaments. It is very tough and very physical. The schedules are very demanding and they keep pouring in. So it is increasingly difficult, especially to have a long career. The competition and the sport is as good as it has ever been.

How has the four-quarter format impacted hockey?

It has pushed up the pace of the game. Each match is now of 60 minutes and there are more breaks. So the speed and pace of the game has gone up. It does get faster and faster and faster, and it is getting physical. It is more difficult to umpire as well.

There has been a lot of talk about the benefits of the HIL for the young Indian players. What is the takeaway for young overseas players from this League?

The top players are playing here. The competition is very tough and the Indian boys are improving. You can see this year the League is very competitive. This is club hockey, and this is probably as good as one can get around the world. The competition here is making the (overseas) players better.

In the HIL, for the last two seasons, a field goal is equivalent to two goals. Is it good for the sport?

Not sure. Don’t know whether it is going to come to international hockey. Will see, but if they want more goals, they have to stop the number one rusher to stop the penalty corners from running out straight down the middle.

I don’t know whether it (two goals for a field goal) is going to take off or not. It says there are more goals — but it is not more goals, it is just more points. It has not changed too many results over the two years. Maybe just one result has changed, which is quite nice. One team leads when the other team comes from behind and they don’t just draw the two points but win as well. It is a bit different, but the outcome has not been just.

Don’t you think it is a bit unfair on the defenders?

It does not matter because it is the same for both teams. It is tougher for the defenders because you say 2-0 instead of 1-0, but ultimately it is just one. One shot at the other end and you are back on level.

What are your plans for the future?

This is the last year of my HIL contract. I will wait and see what happens in the future. I enjoy playing good hockey.

You have a huge fan following in Ranchi. How does it feel to be admired by fans away from home?

This does not happen very often. It is very nice; it is a real pleasure to play in front of such crowd. I hope they keep coming back and keep supporting us no matter what.