England's Barry Middleton set to play his fourth World Cup

Middleton, who made his international debut for England at 19 years of age in 2003, will achieve a rare feat of being the only player from the country to participate in four editions of the event.

Barry Middleton (left) made his England debut in 2003 and is playing his fourth World Cup.   -  R.V. Moorthy

When England takes on China in its opening Pool B match of the Hockey World Cup at the Kalinga Stadium here on Friday, Barry Middleton will achieve a rare feat of being the only player from the country to participate in four editions of the event.

Middleton, who made his international debut at 19 years of age in 2003, feels that the love for the sport has kept him going.  “I love it. I enjoy playing, I like challenging myself personally and with the team. Personally for me, (it’s) planning and getting better every day, working hard and push my body to its limits,” Middleton said on Thursday.

Pool B analysis

However, the 34-year-old, who has played 425 international matches, downplayed his individual milestone. “It’s good to be back for a World Cup and play it in once again in this stadium which is even bigger than the last time we were here. It’s nice to be going again for the National team.”

The winner of a Commonwealth Games bronze medal this year, Middleton – who shuffles between the forward line and midfield as per the need of his team – prefers to remain a disciplined member of the side. “I am still a coached player. Our preparation has been good. Had a good time at home. It’s nice to be here before a few days. The weather is good. We are enjoying ourselves whereas it’s cold back home. We just want to get going. Training can be fun but it’s nothing like playing.”

In the last 15 years, the biggest source of pleasure for Middleton has been the increase in the level of competition in hockey. “The rules have changed. Things have become better and quicker. The self-pass rule (for example) has just make the sport more exciting. The big thing I like is it’s not just the top three (nations) now. The quality of a lot of countries is a lot higher. Twelve teams in the world are strong and world class players are there across all these countries,” said Middleton.