BHUBANESWAR: As the Germans converged from all directions of the turf to the centre-line to celebrated their coup against England, the latter’s talisman Ashley Jackson hunkered down on his knees at the England goalmouth, face in his palms. By now he must be used to that sinking feeling — yet another unprecedented implosion in the knockout stage, after bullying through the group stage.
He reluctantly got up, trudged alone to the dug-out, his golden locks hiding the moist eyes. He sniggered and sneered, even as his teammates futilely consoled him. His fate is akin to Cristiano Ronaldo’s with his national team, among the most gifted and decorated players in the club circuit, but bereft of national glory.
But that wasn’t the reason Jackson’s skipper Barry Middleton likened him to the Portuguese superstar, it was due to his slick flamboyance and exhilarating stick work. Jackson has golden locks – worn at varying lengths, in readiness for combat – and a website which carries superficial similarities to Ronaldo’s.
As far as his game is concerned, he has everything: immense self-belief, nose for goals (he is England’s all-time highest goal-scorer), cheeky dribbling skills, dexterous feet, searing pace and a guillotine drag-flick, daggered usually at 100mph.
But it’s his chutzpah that prompted this comparison. “I use the analogy of what Alex Ferguson used to say about Ronaldo. He would get kicked off the ball, smashed on the ankle, hit from behind and jump around for a bit but he would win the ball again. That’s what Ashley has: the bravery to want the ball,” explains Middleton.
Growing up in Kent, he could have been anyone — a golfer had his financial background been sounder, a cricketer had Kent utilised his potential, an ice hockey player like his father and grandfather. But field hockey was his destiny. It was a choice by default, he admits. “I had played cricket for Kent’s junior team as well for East Grinstead. I had played ice hockey and golf with a handicap of six. But I was selected for the national hockey team, and hence I decided to pursue hockey seriously. Looking back, I don’t have any regrets.”
The decisive break came when HGC, a Dutch senior division club, snapped him up. “My game improved tremendously under coach Paul van Ass. The quality of the Dutch league helped me inculcate both mental and physical toughness. The exposure I got in the league helped me improve overall, especially it improved my flicks,” he points out.
His drag-flicks are unique. Before pushing the ball, he takes one metre further along than others, reminiscent of former Dutch drag-flicker Taco van den Honert. Therefore, the goalkeeper and defenders have less reaction time and a steeper angle to negotiate.
But unlike the archetypal drag-flicker, who offers little else, Jackson sees himself as “a creative player, someone who can make things happen and do things that people like to see”.
The 27-year-old now has his eyes set on arresting England’s trophy drought, which he reckons isn’t too far away, something he to hopes to overcome. And how he would want to be the architect. “It would be nothing less than a dream come true, and I’m sure we will live that dream one day,” he beams. So further comparisons can wait.