New Delhi: Mark Knowles, captain of reigning world hockey champions Australia, believes Terry Walsh's stint as chief coach helped India's performance improve remarkably.
Under Walsh, India had one of their best seasons in the recent past in 2014. India won the Commonwealth Games silver, the Asian Games gold, beat Olympic champions Germany and defeated two top teams to reach the Champions Trophy semis.
But differences with Hockey India (HI) led to Walsh resigning in October.
"India has improved a lot in the last couple of years. The biggest advantage was their coach Walsh. Also, the same bunch of guys playing together continually helps in coordination," Knowles, who is in India for the Hockey India League (HIL), told IANS in an interview from Chandigarh.
"India have delivered some impressive performances especially in the Champions Trophy. Then they performed well in the Commonwealth and Asian Games. They have played well in phases but have not been able to maintain that consistency. They have to be committed consistently like Australia to compete with the top teams."
The 30-year-old, two-time World Cup winner, Friday also became the recipient of the prestigious annual International Hockey Federation (FIH) Player of the Year award.
"It is really an amazing feeling to win such a prestigious award. It is a nice recognition of the hard work that I have put in with the Kookaburra squad who have run over other teams regularly in the last six years," said Knowles, who won the Olympic gold in 2004, following it up with two back-to-back bronze medals in 2008 and 2012.
The Kookaburra, who was the Player of the Tournament in their 2014 World Cup victory, said 2014 was the best year of his career.
"It was the best year of my career. The way Australia played throughout the year and the manner in which we won the World Cup final (6-1) against the Netherlands in their own stadium followed by the Commonwealth Games gold," said Knowles, who hails from Rockhampton, Queensland.
"Then on a personal note, my wife gave birth to my second son; so to top 2014 will be difficult, but I hope to better it by winning the 2016 Rio Olympics gold which is my focus now," added the captain, who was the flag bearer for Australia at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
The hockey superstar is now readying for the third edition of the HIL from Jan 22.
Knowles, who plays for Mohali-based Jaypee Punjab Warriors, is eager to bag the title this year after missing out on it last season.
"In the first year we finished fourth, in the second year we finished second. This year we plan to go one better. Obviously the first aim is to finish in the top-4 and qualify for the semis. Last time we failed to win the league, but we have a big opportunity this time," said the Perth resident, who won the 2010 World Cup here.
But, for the time being, the veteran is eager to gorge on his favourite Indian delicacies.
"I arrived here Tuesday and since then I have had chicken tikka, butter chicken, butter naan and lentils. I just love the food here," added the Australian