Aussie skipper hero and Rocky boy in Indian Hockey League
AUSTRALIAN Kookaburras captain Mark Knowles has been a thorn in India's side since making his debut for Australia in 2004.
Ten years on and the Rockhampton-raised hockey star is now embraced by millions in the country.
Knowles is one of a number of Australian stars currently turning out in the month-long lucrative Hero Hockey India League domestic competition.
It has given the 29-year-old a different perspective on the country which boasts hockey as its national sport.
"The fans are amazing here and have certainly embraced the local Hockey India League more than the tournaments recently with the national team," the Jaypee Punjab Warriors defender said.
"It's a real eye opener to play for a club here.
"We get treated very well through our franchise, which is Jaypee Cement, stay in good accommodation and really get embraced by the Indian people.
"It's also amazing to see parts of India we don't get to visit when travelling with the Kookaburras."
Knowles made his return to international hockey last month at the Hockey World League tournament after suffering an ankle injury playing for Queensland in October.
The injury sidelined him for nine weeks, but proved to be a blessing in disguise ahead of a busy 2014.
Following the HIL competition, Knowles will play for Australia in the World Cup in May, Commonwealth Games in August and Champions Trophy tournament in India in December.
"The ankle is all going well. It was out for nine weeks which was tough but also a good time for me to refresh before this year," Knowles said from his Mohali base.
After missing out on the final in the inaugural HIL competition in 2013, Knowles said the Warriors had made some drastic changes to their roster in 2014.
"We have made some good improvements to our team," he said.
"We have (recruited) one of the best penalty corner flickers in the world in Sandeep Singh.
"Important games are so tight and a great drag flicker can change matches in a split second.
"We have also made some good new signings of other Indian players.
"This helps with only five foreign players allowed on field at any time, so six Indian players all the time need to be at a good level to win."
After a round one 3-1 loss to Delhi Waveriders, the Warriors won three straight matches before Sunday afternoon's draw with Uttar Pradesh Wizards.
They play last-placed Dabur Mumbai Magicians on Saturday in Mumbai.