Monday, March 8, 2010


North Harbour striker Priyesh Bhana is loving every minute of this World Cup. It's his second time playing in the land of his forefathers, a country where hockey battles with cricket as the most popular sport.

Given his Indian roots, Bhana, 25, has been singled out for added attention by supporters and local media. He relishes that and also being able to share the occasion with his family.

He can count on more of that support when he runs out tomorrow morning for the Black Sticks' last pool match against defending champions Germany, knowing they must win to have any chance of progressing after losing to Argentina, the lowest-ranked team, 1-0 yesterday.

Bhana's grandparents were born in India and lived a couple of hours south of Mumbai before they immigrated to New Zealand almost a century ago.

"My dad was born in New Zealand and my mum in Zambia. They got married in England and I was born in Hawera," said Bhana who also speaks Gujarati, his grandmother's native tongue. "Now my brother lives in Melbourne, but they are all here now. That is special."

Just as special as making his Black Sticks debut against India at last year's Punjab Gold Cup in Chandigarh, where New Zealand lost 2-0 in that opening game, but went on to beat Germany 3-2 in their last game of the tournament.

Bhana, "Pee Wee" to his hockey mates, might not possess the scoring skills of the likes of Simon Child and Phil Burrows, but makes up for that with his pace.

Playing on hockey's biggest stage is a world apart from his first days as a 4-year-old when, stick in hand, he played in the backyard of the family's Hawera home.

"Dad played soccer for Taranaki, but he never pushed me to follow him," said Bhana, who went on to captain the Hawera High School 1st XI for three years, leading them to three successive Taranaki secondary school titles.

Like other players, including another Taranaki product and Black Sticks teammate Ben Collier, Bhana was coerced into moving north by then East Coast Bays player-coach, and now Black Sticks assistant coach Darren Smith to play in the North Harbour competition.

"I was studying at Massey University in Palmerston North so thought why not," said Bhana, who has completed his Bachelor of Science and is now, with a Prime Minister's Scholarship, continuing his studies.

He played professionally in Belgium in 2008-09 and has had offers to return. "I will probably go back after the Commonwealth Games, but will eventually finish up back in New Zealand."