When the New Zealand hockey squad boards the plane for the four-nation Punjab Gold Cup in Chandigarh, there will be a youngster eager to set foot on Indian soil.
Not only is he excited about making his debut for the Kiwis, he is also impatient to be in the land of his forefathers.
Priyesh Bhana, 24, and the lone player of Indian origin in the squad, known as Black Sticks, is following in the footsteps of players of Indian origin who have successfully represented New Zealand at the international level.
“I'm excited about coming to India and it's going to be a very special debut for me playing in the land of my forefathers,” Bhana told the Hindustan Times in an email.
Bhana's grandfather Bhanabhai Sukha was born in Machhad village in Navsari district of Gujarat and had settled in New Zealand. Bhana was born in Hawera, Taranaki to Girishbhai and Nalinibhen.
He has played representative hockey through his early years at all levels and made his debut for New Zealand as a 17-year-old in the Indoor World Cup in Leipzig, Germany in 2002.
He represents Manuwatu and North Harbour in the domestic leagues and this season played as a professional in Leige Belgium.
His good showing in Belgium earned him a call to the senior squad that would be taking the field without established internationals and Olympians Ryan Archibald, Blair Hopping, David Kosoof, Hayden Shaw, Ben Collier and Shay McAleese, all of whom will miss the tour because of commitments with European leagues.
Though three other players — David Green, Shay Neal and Blair Hilton — will be making their debut in the Punjab Gold, to be played from January 31 to February 9, Bhana will be under the spotlight not only for his roots but also as a potential for the upcoming Indian tour of New Zealand.
New Zealand squad
Kyle Pontifex, Steven Graham, Dean Couzins, Richard Petherick, Andy Hayward, David Green, Nick Haig, James Nation, Casey Henwood, Steve Edwards, Phil Burrows, Blair Hilton, Lloyd Stephenson, Shay Neal, Joel Baker, Nick Wilson, Priyesh Bhana, Simon Child.