Ashley Jackson singing HIL’s praises

"It really annoys me when I am described only as a drag-flicker, which I like to do alongside my game. I am a midfielder and like to be as attacking as possible. I like to think that I am an exciting player to watch," says Ashley Jackson, the skipper of Ranchi Rays.

Ashley Jackson, skipper of Ranchi Rays in the HIL.   -  Getty Images

Ashley Jackson (red jersey) of Great Britain battles for possession with India’s Sardar Singh in a match in the international invitational hockey tournament in London in 2012.   -  Getty Images

The versatile Ashley Jackson has added to the excitement in the Hockey India League (HIL). The seasoned English midfielder and skipper of Ranchi Rays is one of the top scorers in the 2016 HIL. He is looking help his team defend its title this year.

Jackson speaks to Sportstar about his career, the HIL and much more.

Question: You were the FIH Young Player of the Year in 2009. How has your progress been since then?

Answer: It was a long time ago. You know, the biggest factor since then was that I was part of the team that won the European Championship in 2009, and since then England has not won a tournament. We have won medals out of championships, but we have not won a tournament.

Playing in the HIL for the past three seasons, how do you rate the League, and how do you see the sport improving in India?

It helps in the sense that international players come over, as there is a lot more money in the League than elsewhere in the world. So, it allows us to be professionals and play hockey all round the year rather than do an office job, working and training at the same time.

It is difficult to say how much HIL has helped Indian hockey but the country has gone from, maybe, 11th in the World rankings to seventh now. It is a fact that this tournament has helped the Indians in other ways too. It is enjoyable coming here. You love coming here because you see the crowd getting involved and appreciating your efforts.

Do you think the HIL has helped spot many talented players?

Yes. Maybe, the younger generation will grow up seeing the HIL as their kind of tournament that is just below playing for your own country. Possibly, the juniors will aspire to do well in the tournament. We are still in the early days of that, but it is nice to see more young Indian players come up and join in this for the first time. It is really nice to see how happy they are to be here, so this gives them the incentive to give off their best.

England has not won an Olympic gold in hockey, so how do you think the tournament has helped nurture the sport in your country?

We are ranked No. 4 in the world. This being the Olympic year, we are working hard and this is adding to the confidence that we can achieve what we want to. We think we can win the (gold) medal; we think we can win the tournament and everything is focused on that. The HIL as such is giving a lot of English players the scope to prepare for the big event.

You are regarded as a versatile midfielder. How do you like to define your role?

It really annoys me when I am described only as a drag-flicker, which I like to do alongside my game. I am a midfielder and like to be as attacking as possible. Sometimes I end up at the back of the pitch as a defender and sometimes, I move higher up. I have a game that suits in multiple positions all over the pitch and so I like to think that I am an exciting player to watch.

Do you think the experimental rule of counting one field goal as two is going to help hockey and make it more exciting?

No, I don’t think so. As you can see, already the teams are beginning to defend deeper. There is a greater emphasis on defence and at not conceding field goals and that is happening because of the two-goal rule. It is promoting a more defensive style of hockey, and you see so far it has not made hockey very attack-oriented in the tournament. And no team has really won scoring few goals. I feel that is the way it is going to stay.

  Dugout videos