By Will Jennings
While the Durham student population brace themselves for the impending chilly winter, Ollie Payne and Jack Waller have had more exotic prospects on their mind.
The First XI hockey pair were recently selected as part of Great Britain Under-21’s 18-man squad to travel to Malaysia, taking part in the annual Sultan of Johor Cup against the likes of the United States, Australia and China.
Such an achievement saw the two players exchange the north-east’s ensuing autumnal conditions for a more tropical climate, departing earlier last month for the week-long tournament in Johor Bahru.
Great Britain played five group games in the competition, winning all of them, before eventually being pipped in the final by a well-drilled Australia.
The tournament started so well for John Bleby’s side, with the team triumphing in all of their opening five matches. A narrow 1-0 win over host-nation Malaysia preceded an 11-0 romp against the USA, before two closer encounters saw the Durham-influenced side defeat Australia and Japan 4-2 and 3-1 respectively.
Great Britain completed a flawless group campaign with a 2-1 victory over India, with captain Waller scoring the winner in a closely-run affair.
Despite such a promising opening to the tournament, Great Britain were thwarted in the final, losing 2-0 to an Australia side who successfully defended their title after last year’s triumph.
Waller is no stranger to the Malaysian conditions, having represented England in the previous two tournaments, and having scored the winning goal in last year’s third-place play-off against Japan. The surroundings were less familiar for Payne, whose call-up represented his first and therefore more unfamiliar territory.
Despite Australia’s triumph, Waller and Payne remain confident about the future, retaining optimism about securing a first team call-up. Indeed, the Durham students’ efforts in Malaysia will have done little to inhibit their chances of further success.
Photograph: Great Britain Hockey