A fan of Indian style

M. VEDHAN

“It was a great feeling to be at the top of the podium in Athens. The gold had been eluding us for a long time. It was an amazing experience. You only dream of it,” says Brent Livermore, who led Australia to its first ever Olympic gold medal in 2004. By K. Keerthivasan.

Brent Livermore is back in a familiar role in the Bridgestone World Series Hockey. Playing the role of a captain and mentor for Chennai Cheetahs comes naturally to the 35-year-old Australian. All the youngsters in the team look up to him and are eager to learn from his rich experience.

“He is so down to earth,” says Sivamani, a promising midfielder from Chennai Cheetahs. And according to Adam Sinclair, a forward for Cheetahs, Brent's inputs are valuable and make a lot of sense.

Fame and greatness sit lightly on Brent, who captained Australia to its first-ever Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Games in Athens.

“It was a great feeling to be at the top of the podium in Athens. Winning the gold in Olympics doesn't happen easily. The gold had been eluding us for a long time. It was an amazing experience. You only dream of it. It's not just because of training. You need everything — family support, patience from your side, no occurrence or recurrence of injuries and the support of fans. Everything has to fall in place,” says the veteran.

For Brent, it was the greatest sporting moment of his life. According to him defeating The Netherlands following a golden goal scored by Jamie Dwyer in front of a packed stadium was a surreal experience. Watched by his family (his wife, a netball player, and daughter Kyra who was then eight months old) Brent fulfilled his country's hopes.

Brent says that the gold at the Athens Olympics changed the attitude of the Australian team. “The perspectives, the attitudes, the method of training, everything changed for the better. We realised our potential, and the need to take our game forward,” he says.

In a way, by winning the gold, Brent made amends for missing the penalty stroke against The Netherlands in the semifinals of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. “It is still in my memory. But I am not going to lose sleep over it. These things happen in sport and you have to take it in your stride and move on,” he says.

In World Series Hockey, the star midfielder didn't inspire much confidence in Cheetahs' first home game against Mumbai Marines, but slowly and steadily he began to show his wares. The way Brent trapped the ball, beat his markers and passed to the wingers gave a glimpse of his prowess. The home match against Bhopal Badshahs, where Cheetahs won 4-1, saw Brent in all his splendour. Brent is all praise for World Series Hockey. “Interacting with the Indian players and players from other countries has been interesting. You tend to learn and adapt to different playing styles. As a result, you are sure to improve your game. It's been fun so far,” he says.

Arguing that leagues such as World Series Hockey are the need of the hour, Brent says Australia has one of the best teams in the world because its players play in some of the best leagues across the world. “The Australian men's team is No. 1 not because of nothing. Our players play in the Dutch League, the Spanish League... It makes you physically and mentally tough,” he says.

Having to play 14 matches, some of them on successive days, it is important for a team to get into a routine. And it is the responsibility of the captain to make his team understand the importance of sticking to a deadline.

Team meetings, warming up before a match, warming down, pre-match and post-match discussions are things that Brent loves to do with his team-mates. “Making the team get used to a routine on a match day is crucial. I like to lead from the front,” says Brent, who is called ‘Chief' for his leadership qualities.

One of the most capped players for Australia — he has played 318 matches in a career spanning 13 years — Brent has played in two Olympics, two World Cups, 11 Champions Trophy tournaments, three Commonwealth Games and several other internationals matches.

Besides being a part of the Olympic gold medal-winning team, Brent has won three Champions Trophy tournaments with Australia — 1999 (Brisbane), 2005 (Chennai) and 2009 (Melbourne). “I regret not being able to win the World Cup in my career,” he says.

Brent was not a member of the Australian team that won the World Cup in 2010. He says the selectors ignored him for the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi not on the basis of his form or skill, but because of his age. That, according to him, was very unfair. “I was hoping to be a part of the team. Even now, I am fit but the selectors ignored my performance, fitness and instead preferred to look at only my date of birth, which is pretty sad. They (selectors) told me ‘You are among the top 10 players in Australia, but we need to blood youngsters'. It's difficult to accept. My situation is the same as cricketer Simon Katich,” Brent says.

Brent's senior international debut was interesting, one that gave him a rare opportunity to see the best of Pakistani players. Aged 20, he played in the five-nation 50th Golden Jubilee tournament in Karachi in front of 50,000-strong supporters. “I still remember a large number of people cheering the home team. In one match against Pakistan, Shahbaz Ahmed's shot whizzed past my ears into the goal. It was an experience in itself,” he recalls.

Having watched and competed with Indian players in his prime, Brent is a fan of the Indian style. He hopes the World Series Hockey would provide the necessary boost to Indian hockey. “I enjoy playing in India and Pakistan for the people's passion and love for the sport. I hope India gets back to the top in world hockey,” he says.