As New Zealand’s practice drew to a close, all but one of the players returned to the dugout. The tall, muscular figure of Simon Child continued to dribble the ball on the blue pitch of the Kalinga Stadium for a few minutes before returning to the dugout. Perhaps it’s the extra work routine that has helped the 34-year-old extend his career to an incredible 18 years, a rarity in the demanding world of hockey.
Having made his debut in 2005, Child is the most experienced player at the World Cup here – depending on the year of his international debut. It hasn’t been straightforward for Child, however, who has taken several career breaks for personal reasons. This is why Childe is playing his first World Cup in India even though three of the last four editions have been held here.
In 2010 I was selected but was not having a good time with hockey. I wasn’t enjoying it so I decided to withdraw from the team,” says Child, who helped New Zealand win bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The baby’s last two periods were the longest. He was out for three years and two months after the 2016 Rio Olympics after sustaining a serious hip injury during the 2017 Hockey India League (HIL), which forced him to miss the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
After recovering, the kid returned to the turf in October 2019, helping the Black Sticks qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. However, Child decided not to go to the Olympics.
“When you get to my age, your priorities change a bit. My son was born on August 6, 2020. If I had left, I would probably have stayed away from my child’s birth or growing up. Which would have been a real shame. Family life was a priority at that time so I decided not to make myself available (for the Olympics to be held in July-August 2021).
Although still disappointed to miss the Olympics, Child has given time to his family during the lockdown that he couldn’t before. He also started a commercial property investment company in Auckland as Hockey New Zealand was forced out of tournaments like the Pro League when the country closed its borders.
Several New Zealand athletes retired after the Tokyo Olympics, including his brother Marcus. But not the baby. The 291-cap veteran made a grand comeback in October 2022 after two years and eight months playing in the Pro League against India here. After seeing his performance in four Pro League games, coach Greg Nicol decided to bring in the veteran for this World Cup.
“Having a bit of time out has allowed me to focus on some personal areas of my life. My business is really important, I have a very supportive wife, a two-and-a-half-year-old son. In the last two years, I’ve been at home a lot. I was able to spend time. It gave me the opportunity to come back and play in the World Cup.”
That hasn’t happened yet. The kid wants to keep coming back for Blacksticks in the future.